OK, golfers everywhere, let's hear it for Ted Lehmann. He's done what every person who ever picked up a golf club wants to do--earned that hallowed stamp of the game's approval, his PGA Tour card.
Best of all, he did it in a fashion most weekend hackers can appreciate. He slid and slumped before battling his way aboard. He overcame a bad case of the bogeys and a bout with low self-esteem and confidence.
At one point, it got so bad that Lehmann almost gave up the game completely and went to work for a fire department because golf, he said, was driving him crazy.
He was one of us.
And now, he's one of them.
It's not that Lehmann hadn't shown promise. While he was golfing for Thousand Oaks High in the late '70s, he battled current tour pro Corey Pavin, who played at Camarillo, for the Marmonte League title two years in a row--each winning once.
When he graduated in 1978, glamour college programs lined up to recruit him. After narrowing his choices to USC, Brigham Young, Houston and Arizona State, Lehmann headed for BYU because, he said, "they had one of the best programs, and the best players, in the country."
It's ironic that Lehmann's game went into the dumper at BYU, due at least in part to the presence of the Cougars' best golfer, Bobby Clampett.
Says Lehmann: "He was so good, it was a joke. I still have never seen anybody as good as he was in college. My first semester, I did well. I was No. 2, behind Clampett. But as I watched him, I started comparing myself to him. Then, I started thinking, 'I'm not even in this guy's league.' "
And soon thereafter, Lehmann proved it. He changed his swing trying to copy his teammate and in the process, he says, "I lost my identity." He also lost a load of tournaments and most of his confidence.
"I was so discouraged," Lehmann says, "I was ready to quit. I was convinced I wasn't good enough. I was practicing the wrong things and getting worse. I even lost my energy to practice. I'm not blaming Bobby. It was me. I was immature and confused."
His low point in college came when BYU won the national championship in 1981, which happened to be the same year that Lehmann decided to redshirt.
Most disturbing was the fact that, outside of Clampett, Lehmann was supposed to be the best of the Cougars. But, at the time at least, he was the worst. Clampett, Rick Fehr, Keith Clearwater and Richard Zokol were his teammates and all have since made it to the PGA Tour. In their shadows, Lehmann sank into the background. He spent as much time skiing in Utah's Wasatch Mountains as he did swinging his clubs.
By the time he graduated in 1983, his game was in shambles. "Every round was bad," he says. "My self-image was in the pits. It was a nightmare."
He went to work as a stockbroker for a firm in Ventura. That lasted one week. Lehmann quit to search for a job that would allow time for him to practice and compete in mini-tour events--a sort of minor league golf tour. He worked as a car salesman and played as often as possible.
In 1984, he began making decent showings on the mini-tour. He entered the PGA's qualifying tournament in the fall of that year and made it through local and regional qualifying before self-destructing in the finals. The year before, he was eliminated in the locals.
Each year, the PGA holds a qualifying tournament for low-money winners among the professionals and amateur golfers trying to make the PGA Tour. About 1,200 try out, but the tour accepts only the top 50 finishers.
When Lehmann was among the 180 finalists in 1984, only to let his nerves get the best of him, he said, "This is impossible." He was down and out again, and even worse, he was broke.
Early in 1985, Lehmann's career brightened when he found a sponsor willing to shell out $30,000 a year to pay for his mini-tour expenses. He played in smaller events in Texas, Florida and California. Late in the year, he did the unimaginable--he won a tournament. And then another. "I wasn't a punching bag anymore," he says. "I wasn't thinking about Bobby Clampett anymore."
At the end of the year, he entered the PGA's qualifying tournament and made it to the finals again. And, in a scenario that was becoming all too familiar to Lehmann, he choked again. After shooting rounds of 75, 78 and 73, he quit midway through the fourth round to catch a flight to Spain so he could try to qualify for the European tour. "And I blew out over there, too," he says.
It was then that Lehmann decided to hit the positive mental attitude at full throttle. And he needed it. He went to Asia in February of this year to sharpen his game in tournaments there. He played in countries where the rough was basically jungle. If he missed the fairway in Thailand, he needed a banana knife to find both his ball and his way out. He played in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, South Korea and Japan.
"I could've been miserable over there," Lehmann says. "A lot of guys who play there are. We had to play in weird weather and in weird places.