- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Tom Lehman sat at four under after the first round of the British Open, placing him two shots off the lead and firmly in the conversation about potential winners. Had Lehman prevailed, he'd have jumped to fifth place in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings. The difficulty is that Lehman is already the captain of that team.
I can think of only one reason why a Ryder Cup captain would also play in the matches: He doesn't believe that he has 12 guys who can beat him. Lehman has been playing great, but he's going to have a huge problem if he tries to play on the squad he'll lead to Kildare, Ireland, in September. The captain's task is so much harder than a player's because there are so many areas in which he can screw up. I can't conceive how anyone could handle both duties.
When I was captain at Kiawah Island in 1991, I continually felt I was short of time, even though I had both my sons helping me run the team. As captain you're getting information all day. You're trying to assess how your players are playing, you're keeping an eye on the four guys you have practicing, you're making the pairings for the next round, you're meeting with the media, and you're going to team dinners. Lehman has terrific assistant captains in Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts, and if Tom winds up playing, he's going to rely heavily on them because at some point he's going to be out on the course when it's time to submit the pairings for the next round. And if he's playing, he'll want to practice--and there'll be almost no time for that.
I was very impressed by Sam Torrance when he was the European captain at the Belfry in 2002. He stopped to talk to me on the putting green for 10 minutes between sessions, simply chatting away and signing autographs. I was thinking, How can this guy be so relaxed between the morning and afternoon matches? It wasn't like that for me at Kiawah; it was totally hectic.
Beyond these demanding tasks, the captain's main duty is getting the team chemistry right, and that is a full-time job. With the U.S. and European tours pretty equal now, the captain who does the better job with chemistry is going to win. You have the best players available, so it's your job to motivate them and put them together in ways that give them every chance to succeed. To be honest, we've been outcaptained recently. That surprises me, but I have friends on both sides who agree.
I'm excited about Lehman's being captain because I think chemistry is his strong suit. He's very religious and strong-willed. I hope he finds 12 unbeatable players and guides them to victory. I don't know if a playing captain can do that. The job is overwhelming.
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Aug. 14 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.