SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As his final putt disappeared into No. 18, Tom Lehman bent over and tugged his cap down as far as it could go. It did not quite shield his quivering upper lip.
Lehman won both the Charles Schwab Cup tournament championship and the season-long Charles Schwab Cup title on Sunday with his mind firmly on mentor, teacher and friend Jim Flick, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on Monday. The two spoke on the phone before the round, and Flick told Lehman simply to “go out there and be Tom Lehman.”
Lehman did exactly that. He shot a final-round 65 at the Desert Mountain Cochise Course to win the tournament by six strokes, overtaking points leader Bernhard Langer for the season championship in the process.
“I know I wanted to be able to finish this tournament and give him a call and tell him that this one’s for you. No doubt about that. There was a little bit of karma or something,” said Lehman, whose relationship with Flick began in 1990.
“I thought about him a lot when we were finishing. I thought about him a lot before we started. I tried not to think about him while I was playing, but it is impossible not to.”
Like on the lush eighth fairway, as Lehman lined up for a second shot into the green at the 569-yard par-5 Sunday, holding a three-stroke lead and a golf-bag full of memories.
“I remember specifically one afternoon he and I being out on the eighth hole hitting 3-woods down the hill toward that green. We probably spent half an hour just back there hitting shots. Those are the kind of things you think about. But the more I thought about that, the more teary-eyed I got, so I decided I can’t play this round of golf with tears in my eyes,” Lehman said.
Lehman did say he played the final hole for Flick. Lehman crushed a drive down the middle of the fairway on the 511-yar par-5 and put a 7-iron within 12-15 feet. He left the eagle putt a few inches to the right before tapping in for his 65.
“I know that he was probably watching today, and I felt quite certain that that was probably the last driver he was ever going to see me hit, and I wanted to make it a good one,” Lehman said.
“It was the last 7-iron he’ll ever see me hit, and I wanted to make that a good one. The last putt, I wanted to make that putt. I didn’t want to make it so I would win by six. I wanted to make it for him.”
A Scottsdale resident, Lehman won his second consecutive Schwab Cup championship with a Tour numerical record of 258. His 22-under par tied a Tour record, and his 25 birdies were three short of a record.
Lehman and Flick met at the Tradition tournament here in 1990, beginning a lasting relationship. With Flick’s help, Lehman become one of the most successful and most respected members of the PGA Tour. Lehman has won five PGA tournaments, including the 1996 British Open and the 2000 Phoenix Open, and has won seven events on the Champions Tour.
Lehman, playing the Hogan Tour, was looking for help with his wedge game. “Inside of 100 yards, pitiful,” he said. Ronnie Black and Andrew Magee were working with Flick at the time, and Lehman called to ask Flick if he could take on another pupil.
“I said ‘My name is Tom Lehman,’ and his response was ‘Who?'” Lehman said.
They met during the lunch hour the next day, the start of a beautiful friendship.
“After two hours, my wedge game improved quickly,” Lehman said. “We gradually worked from wedges to the rest of my game.”
Lehman, 53, had only three bogeys in 72 holes and finished six strikes strokes ahead of Jay Haas, who shot a 60 on Friday. Lehman birdied two of the first three holes and was never fewer than three strokes ahead the rest of the way. His only bogey Sunday was on the 10th hole, but he had a four-stroke lead at the time, more than enough to hold off Haas and Fred Couples.
Couples, who had not played in 10 weeks, finished in a tie for fourth in the tournament after getting into contention with a 62 on Saturday. Couples played for the first time since being forced to withdraw from the Boering Classic on Aug. 15 because of a lower back injury. Couples won the Senior British Open on July 26, his last event before Boering.
“I can somehow, with my swing, play around it. I can continue to play. And then every now and then it blows up like in Seattle (Boering), where I have to get away for a couple of months,” Couples said of his back issues.
“When you watch them play, they play as well as they did when they were 35 years,” he added about Lehman and Langer.
It was a tough weekend for Langer, who entered the weekend with a big points lead and favorable odds to win his first Schwab Cup. Langer would won the Cup if he had finished 10th and Lehman finished fourth or worst in the tournament, but Langer’s 70 on Saturday dropped him into a tie for 10th, 11 strokes behind Lehman entering the final round.
“I thought I came in here playing really good golf. I was really excited with the way I was striking it and putting. Obviously it was a little disappointing. I couldn’t get it going. The putter wasn’t good enough. I missed three or four points every day that should have been going in. It’s the difference,” Langer said.
“Tom Lehman had a fantastic year and a very good week this year. It’s phenomenal. The scores he shot are really, really good. He deserves to win. He deserves to be the champion. When it was necessary, he put the pedal to the metal. That’s what it takes.”
Lehman won a $1 million annuity that he plans to put toward a junior golf program in Flick’s name.