When Tom Lehman finally won the U.S. Open on Sunday, he wept. He shot 67 to win by two, smooched the trophy and put a full nelson on his wife.
Unfortunately, it was 7:30 on Sunday morning, his wife, Melissa, was dozing next to him, and the real U.S. Open was still hours away.
"I was just lying there, visualizing the whole day," Lehman said on Sunday evening. "I got off to a great start. Birdied number 1. Bunch of pars. Stick it on 14. Stuff it on 18. Then they handed me the trophy. It was so emotional. I was thinking how good it felt, how much I'd wanted it. And tears came down my cheeks."
He shoulda stood in bed.
Because when it was time to play, golf's Susan Lucci made no birdies, shot 75 and finished tied for nowhere. It was an unprecedented fourth straight year he'd lost coming out of the final pairing at a U.S. Open, equaling a record for heartache set by the Buffalo Bills and Harold Stassen. Face it. It's looking as if Lehman will never win one of these stupid things, which proves that God has a sick sense of humor.
What stinks is that in this, the year of John Elway, it all set up so sweet. Down four strokes, Lehman was paired with the leader, Payne Stewart. The crowds were three to one for him. How could you not be? Here was Stewart, with that classic swing, those Ford-modeling-agency looks, those dandified clothes. And there was Lehman, with that Herman Munster swing, that John Deere face, those rumpled Dockers.
Lehman had to win this time. He's the guy with the heart three sizes too big, the guy who always runs the paper drive, secretly cuts the elderly couple's lawn and buys too many boxes of Girl Scout cookies. In a world where celebrating Father's Day usually requires a judge and two court orders, Lehman is that rare guy: the athlete who actually wants to be a dad. How many tour pros wear their daughter's Day-Glo green friendship bracelet when they play? How many bring their two-year-old sons with them to tournaments, without benefit of wife, babysitter or personal assistant? When Melissa suffered a miscarriage last year, Tom was still despondent long after she had gotten over it.
A guy like that you want to win the Open, the Pulitzer and, if possible, PowerBall. So with all that going for him, Lehman went out on Sunday and played flatter than last Thursday's beer. He got passed by Lee Janzen, who took the trophy, held his wife and cried. You know what it does to a guy, always playing Betty to everybody else's Veronica? "I gotta be brutally honest here," Lehman said afterward. "Doubt is starting to creep into my head."
You know what Lehman's problem is? He's not a killer. On Friday he yelled at a USGA official for a ridiculous pin placement on 18. He called the man the next day to apologize. On Saturday he was practicing eight-foot putts. Every time his ball would approach the hole, his eight-year-old daughter, Rachael, would swat it away with the flagstick. Most pros would've called security. Or a boarding school. Lehman just smiled. Two years ago, at the 1996 U.S. Open, remember who gave Steve Jones the strength to settle his nerves and beat Lehman? Lehman!
Tom Lehman: Doormat to Greatness.