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In Lehman's Terms
Rick Reilly
September 03, 2001
Why is it the worst things happen to the best people?
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September 03, 2001

In Lehman's Terms

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Why is it the worst things happen to the best people?

Tom Lehman, who is 3-0 in Ryder Cup singles matches and has never even made a bogey in a singles match, wasn't chosen to play in this year's Ryder Cup. And that wasn't within a par-5 of the worst thing that happened to him this summer.

On July 23 Tom drove his five-months pregnant wife, Melissa, to the hospital. Twenty-five hours later Samuel Edward Lehman was delivered stillborn. Tom sat in a rocking chair and held Samuel as though he were alive. He held the 10-inch-long baby in his big hands for two hours, rocking and touching and weeping worse than any infant in that maternity wing.

That day also happened to be the sixth birthday of the Lehmans' son, Thomas, and that's what made it hurt even more. Lying there in his dad's arms, Samuel looked identical to his big brother.

Tom had the funeral, had two weeks of crying, and then had to go on. He put his golf clubs on his sagging shoulder and headed out the door. With two tournaments to go, he had to protect his place in the top 10 of the Ryder Cup point standings. Had to. Nobody wanted to play this Ryder Cup, in Sutton Coldfield, England, worse than Lehman did.

See, to Europeans, Lehman had become the symbol of rude American behavior. They had singled him out as the head hooligan in the celebration on the 17th green at the 1999 Ryder Cup, after Justin Leonard holed his 45-foot putt to seal the U.S. win. The Europeans howled that Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal could have canned his 20-footer to tie but had no chance amid the hug riot. "And Tom Lehman calls himself a man of God," chided Sam Torrance of Scotland, who happens to be the Euro captain this time around.

That ate at Lehman. Even Olaz�bal admitted later that the ruckus didn't affect his putt. And what did Lehman's religion have to do with anything? "That really was uncalled for," Lehman says. "I was like, You guys can take that and stick it where the sun don't shine. I'm telling you, I couldn't think of anything sweeter than to go over there, let my clubs do my talking, put the hammer on somebody, win the thing and celebrate on the 18th green, right in front of their fans."

But as he set out to keep his spot on the team, he had Samuel and Melissa on his mind and a big hole where his fire was supposed to be. He missed both cuts, including the final one at the PGA Championship, which dropped him from 10th to 11th and out of the automatic spots. "I was emotionally spent," Lehman says. "I was running completely on empty. I'm not going to apologize for playing poorly. I couldn't dig down. I had nothing in me."

Then came U.S. captain Curtis Strange's phone call on Aug. 19, just 45 minutes after the PGA had ended. Strange had two wildcard selections to make. "Seems like you've been struggling," Lehman says Strange told him. "I'm not picking you."

At first Lehman thought Strange was joking. Next he was shocked, and then crushed. Still, Lehman didn't make a peep. "I'm pulling for you guys," he told Strange, "and I'll be watching." Lehman hung up and nearly threw the phone through the window.

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