Tom Lehman’s captaincy has been dogged by controversy and sniping at his record from the outset from both sides of the Atlantic.
Firstly, but only briefly, let’s touch on his reputation in Europe. This is based one could say almost exclusively upon his conduct in the infamous “walking across the green” incident in the 1999 Brookline Ryder Cup. I may be showing a little bias here but there is no doubt the incident was not golf’s finest hour, a point often accepted by Lehman. To continue to punish and harangue Lehman over it seven years later however seems to be little unfair. In my limited exposure to Tom (having driven him around the JP McManus golf classic) he came across as a professional, courteous family man.
Tom Lehman has 18 tournament wins including 5 major PGA titles under his belt. Since turning professional in 1982 Lehman has appeared in three Ryder Cup tournaments 1995, 1997 and 1999. All in all it is a record on the professional tour which is not to be sniffed at. However it is record which hasn’t sufficiently impressed his detractors who deem it insufficiently experienced enough to captain the US Ryder Cup team.
Accepting the fact that Lehman’s record on the tour, although impressive, doesn’t put him up there with the all time greats the question still remains whether this actually matters? Is there any empirical evidence that you need to be an uber-achiever on the PGA tour to be a successful Ryder Cup captain? Not that I’m aware of – I’m not even sure that it’s necessarily desirable. An analysis of the performance of players who turned managers in Baseball here throws up a number of interesting parallels. The key finding here has shown that average players often turn out to make the most exceptional managers.
The key to success in the Ryder Cup seems to be the ability of the captain to forge a “Team” from a diverse group of self absorbed individuals. For the rest of their careers the players are inwardly focused in a game that’s all about themselves. Although it’s often personal performances that grab the limelight of the media coverage it must be remembered that above all the Ryder Cup is a team game. The challenge that Lehman (and his counterpart Ian Woosnam) have is to mould these solo players into a cohesive team. This is where the Europeans have scored in recent years. On paper the individual Americans have been stronger year in year out but the Europeans have managed to visibly pull together as a team more strongly.
This is a fact which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Lehman who has been focussing his leadership on the cultivation of the team spirit as much as any other aspect. His inclusive process gives us a glimpse of the fact that there’s more to Lehman than meets the eye and that he understands the psychological aspects of the pre-selection process very well. Tom Lehman does appear to have the respect of the US golfers (if only because they may need his wildcard places!). I don’t know whether Tom can do it (or I’d be out placing a massive bet!) but I think it’s time to forget the past and give him the space to get on with the job in hand.