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The Anti-Shark
Rick Reilly
July 29, 1996
At the British Open, rough and rumpled Tom Lehman did what Greg Norman couldn't: hold off Nick Faldo to win a major championship
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July 29, 1996

The Anti-shark

At the British Open, rough and rumpled Tom Lehman did what Greg Norman couldn't: hold off Nick Faldo to win a major championship

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Turns out the kind of guy you need to stand up to Nick Faldo is not somebody with seven Ferraris, five boats and two helicopters. It's not a guy with a perfect swing or clothes or chin. What you need is the kind of guy who looks like a rump roast on the outside but is tougher than a Woolworth's steak on the inside; somebody who has spent a lifetime trying to make a check at the Duluth Open, a guy wearing $35 Dockers, a guy with a bald spot and a Happy Gilmore kind of lurch at the ball and a funny hitch in his neck that makes him look as if he's in a limbo contest.

What you need is a big-boned Midwestern boy like 37-year-old Tom Lehman, who is never going to be the centerfold of Golf Digest but was just stubborn enough to hold off the unkillable Faldo, not to mention Fred Couples, Ernie Els and Mark McCumber, to win his first major on Sunday at preposterously sunny Royal Lytham and St. Annes near Blackpool, England.

"I may not swing the prettiest or look the prettiest, and I may do some things kind of funny," said an emotional Lehman after he was handed the silver claret jug that went to the winner of the British Open, "but I have a lot of heart."

Lehman's 67-67-64-73 for a 13-under 271 made it a week as American as MTV. This was the second straight year an American has had the scones to come to Britain and win. (Last year John Daly did it at St. Andrews.) It was also the first time an American has won at Lytham since Bobby Jones in 1926 and a year when Americans took first, second, two ties for fifth, a tie for seventh, low amateur ( Tiger Woods) and low grandfather. Fifty-six-year-old Jack Nicklaus pushed the Olympics off the front of the world's sports pages with his five-under-par 66 on Friday, which put him only one measly shot out of the lead in a quest for his 19th major. "Who knows?" he said without his old bravado that night. "I might play great or I might go out the next two days and shoot 150." (He shot 77-73 for 150.)

Still, for all the Yanks on the leader board, the week seemed to belong to native son Faldo, basking in a newfound popularity in Britain that somehow comes from divorcing your wife, moving to Orlando and dating a coed. Unnoticed in the Faldofest, Lehman had taken control of the tournament by late Saturday when his brilliant 64 broke the course record. Not that this was a good thing.

When the words on the news that night were read—" Lehman's got a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo with one day left to play"—a chill came over golf. It was like reading, Unaware, Susan descended the unlit stairs to the basement. If you had been in a theater you would have tucked your knees up to your chest and tried to crawl inside your popcorn. Six shots? Over Faldo? One round to go? Yikes.

Only two majors and three months ago Greg Norman held the same six-shot lead over the same unshakable Faldo with one round to go in the Masters and wound up as a smudge mark, giving up not only the six but another five and suffering the biggest and most gruesome collapse in major-championship golf history. But it's not just Norman. Faldo has made a career of sucking in leaders on Sundays like some giant Hoover attachment. He reeled in Paul Azinger to win the '87 British, Scott Hoch to win the '89 Masters, Ray Floyd for the '90 Masters, John Cook for the '92 British, Curtis Strange at the '95 Ryder Cup, then Norman.

Next?

"Well, if anything is going to happen," Faldo said coyly on Saturday night, "the last group is the place to be."

Lehman rolled out every clich� he could find in the press tent that night, steeling himself. "I'm going to take it one hole at a time," he said. Also, "I can't worry about the other guy." But afterward, he thought hard about it. He had watched Norman that dreadful April Sunday on television ("painful," he said), and he knew what Faldo could do to the rest of his career. But he also knew that he is about as far from Norman as a man can get. Lehman never expected to be playing in a major, much less leading one. This is a man who has a deep working knowledge of the Dakotas tour, the Carolinas tour and all the worn-out fan belts and hoses in between. This is a man who was once so smelly and broke that he couldn't afford a motel to take a shower in, so he pulled his old Volvo over behind a building, stripped to his shorts and showered in a driving rainstorm instead.

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