Is Lehman up to leading Team USA to Ryder Cup Victory?

Tom Lehman’s captaincy has been dogged by controversy and sniping at his record from the outset from both sides of the Atlantic.

Tom Lehman

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.

4 Responses to “Is Lehman up to leading Team USA to Ryder Cup Victory?”

  1. Duke says:

    I think Lehman will do OK. Anything would be better than Sutton and his cowboy hat. I can’t wait until they captain Freddy Couples…. Talking about someone all of the USA and Euro players respect…the year they put Fred in as captain I am sure the European team will have a lot to worry about.

  2. […] US Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman was also talking this week about, amongst other things, the frustrations of changing his reputation on the European side of the water. We’ve also added an in-depth article of our own on the problems facing Lehman and his approach to answering his critics. […]

  3. Joan hickey says:

    As I am an OAP who could not afford Sky, naver mind a ticket to Kildare, I will not be able to watch this best of all golf. I am really ‘teed off’. Probably will have cast off this mortal coil by the next Ryder Cup. Money rules.
    Joan Hickey

  4. John G says:

    Listen, my opinion is that Lehman is a jerk. About a year ago, him and his wife and Billy Mayfair’s wife were hawking their paperback at a local AZ course, about life on the tour, i was buying a copy and asked Tom if he could give me some advice on a putting problem…he then stares at me blankly and looked at me with pure disdain! He points to the poor local pro next to him and responds “why don’t you ask him??” then he looks away and collects my $20 for his wife’s paper back. The pro was even embarassed…Yikes..saidly i don’t think he’s what everyone thinks he is. After that incident, i now notice his constant frown on his face.

    There is a general lack of appeal to this guy. I can’t imagine he generates much energy as a captain. Bad choice to lead a team in need of some bonding and fun.

    Arnie said it, this team doesn’t have fun together. Well look at their captain. No one has fun around this downer. I think he’s got everybody fooled…he’s a jerk and nobody knows it.

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