The trophy case in Tom Lehmans Arizona home doesnt lack for gold, silver and brass. It features a Claret Jug for winning the British Open, two Charles Schwab Cups for season-best performances on the Champions Tour and countless other keepsakes from victories during 45 years of competitive golf at the highest level.
What it doesnt include is a trophy for winning a U.S. national championship. For a player of his caliber, its inescapably incomplete.
The beauty of golf is that Lehman still has a chance to rectify that. Hell be 56 next summer when the 2015 U.S. Senior Open comes to Sacramento. If he doesnt win in two months at Oak Tree National in Oklahoma, hed like nothing better than to say Del Paso Country Club is where he finally made it happen.
There are tournaments and then there are tournaments, Lehman said Wednesday at Del Paso to help the club and United States Golf Association officials announce that tickets are available for the championship, June 22-28, 2015. What you aspire to from the time youre a kid is to win the national championship. Those are the ones you want to win the most.
Growing up in Minnesota, Lehman didnt sniff the U.S. Junior and qualified for the U.S. Amateur but went nowhere. A late bloomer as a pro, he had at least a share of the lead entering the final round of the U.S. Open an unprecedented three years in a row, 1995 to 1997. He tied for second and twice finished third during that stretch, and he finished second in the 2012 U.S. Senior Open. Hes had his share of chances and heartache.
Any golf fan with a hint of gray around the temples wont forget Lehman on the 17th fairway during the final round at Congressional in 1997, trailing Ernie Els by one shot, head in hands after his approach shot trickled into the pond left of the green, his bid at victory wet as well.
If Lehman finds himself in the same position on the 71st hole at Del Paso, competing against a field limited to players 50 and older, he said the emotion, intensity and desire to succeed would be the same.
Yes, there is more camaraderie and friendships on the Champions Tour, he said. But the competitive nature of the player doesnt change.
External factors such as money and prestige are different, Lehman said, but players at the highest level dont distinguish when a national title is on the line.
Its about achieving goals, whether its the Schwab Cup or Ryder Cup, he said. It may not mean as much to outsiders, but it doesnt feel any different to the players.
Lehman toured Del Paso for the first time Wednesday morning. The fairways that run diagonally from the tees caught his attention, as did the rough thats already approaching USGA championship standards in thickness and height.
People like to see train wrecks and they like to see birdies. I think theyll see both, Lehman said.
Del Paso has hosted four USGA events the first was the 1957 U.S. Womens Amateur and the most recent was the 1982 U.S. Womens Open but none since undergoing an extensive renovation that closed the course for 18 months in 2005-06. It was lengthened to 7,100 yards from the back tees at that time.
The greatest events are played on the greatest golf courses, Lehman said. Its going to be a special, special week.
Call The Bees Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526