The questions are so familiar to Tom Lehman that he can comfortably recite how plans are well underway for leading the United States in its quest to win back the Ryder Cup in September in Ireland.
The 36th Ryder Cup will be contested Sept. 22-24, 2006, at The K Club in Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland. Lehman, 45, competed on the 1995, '97 and '99 U.S. Ryder Cup Teams and left his mark in the competition with a 3-0-0 record in singles. He was also a member of the 1999 U.S. Team that mounted the greatest Ryder Cup comeback victory in history, at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. That was also the last year that an American team won possession of the Ryder Cup.
Since 1985, the momentum has been with Europe in the Ryder Cup, owning a 6-3-1 advantage in golf’s preeminent event.
Lehman began the year strong to fuel speculation that he might be a playing Captain, the first since Arnold Palmer in 1963. However, he has struggled as of late, and is currently listed No. 15 in the U.S. Ryder Cup Team Standings.
"We want our 12 best guys for starters," said Lehman, prior to competing in last week’s EDS Byron Nelson Championship. "Number two, we’re doing an awful lot -- and have been -- right now to get our team prepared. Our guys know that the preparation doesn’t start two weeks before the Ryder Cup. It doesn’t start right before.
"The preparation has already started, and the preparation I’m talking about is mental, because everybody is preparing physically to play their best golf. They’re grinding. They’re preparing. But the message I’ve been giving over and over is that golf is an individual sport, and I would like all of the guys out there to achieve their goals. I’m sure they have goals to win tournaments, to win majors, to be the best they can be, and I hope they achieve all of that.
"But it’s still possible to have as part of your goals to be part of a winning Ryder Cup effort, to be part of a team that goes over to Ireland to win. Let’s make sure when you think about your goals for the year that you include that, and our guys are doing that, and they’ve done that, and they’re talking about that.
"Could I play? I don’t know. We’d have to cross that bridge when we get there. I know what I’ve wanted to do would have already been achieved."
The Ryder Cup began in 1927, when enterprising English seed merchant Samuel Ryder commissioned the casting of a gold chalice that bears his name. The U.S. Team defeated Great Britain, 9½ to 2½, in the inaugural matches in Worcester, Mass.
Since then, except for a span during World War II (1939-45) and after the attacks of 9/11 in 2001, the Ryder Cup was held biennially with the U.S. and Europe alternating as host.
Lehman said the quest to earn an automatic Ryder Cup berth, to be among the Top 10 in the Ryder Cup Standings, always brings out the best in talent.
"The best players are coming to the top, and they always do. No matter what the system, the best players are always going to end up on top," said Lehman. "I look at this, and what I see is (Tiger) Woods, (Phil) Mickelson, (Jim) Furyk, (David) Toms, (Chad) Campbell – Top Five guys you would expect to be there. They’re five of our very best players in this country. Then, you go down, and you’ve got Davis Love and Fred Couples and Scott Verplank at 12, and (Chris) DiMarco is at 14. And again, more of the guys you would expect to be close are either in there or very close. All the guys you would expect are there."
Lehman also said that new faces can only add much to the U.S. Team this year.
"There are some guys that I’ve had my eye on for a year-and-a-half now, because I think these guys really have what it takes," said Lehman. "There’s several younger guys in there who I’ve felt all along are great players, and they’re proving it. Lucas Glover is No. 6. Big heart. He’s got a huge heart and hugely talented, too. And on top of that, a phenomenal person. I really like that guy. As I look at this, I pay attention to see, 'Okay, how is Lucas doing? He’s had a chance to have a good week that week, what did he do?’ Well, he finished it off and finished fourth at (The) Wachovia (Championship). It was a great week for him. And, I pay attention to that."
The PGA of America’s point system to determine 10 of the 12 members of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team began following this year’s 86th PGA Championship, and concludes in August 2006, at the 88th PGA Championship at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club. Lehman will complete the team with two Captain’s selections following the Championship.
Celebrating its 90th anniversary, The PGA of America was founded in 1916, and is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the game of golf, while continuing to enhance the standards of the profession. The Association is comprised of more than 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals who are dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.