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THREE AND OUT
DAMON HACK
June 13, 2011
For two years running, Tom Lehman had top three finishes at the U.S. Open, but as he came down the stretch at Congressional it looked as if 1997 was going to be his year. Then one bad swing on a notorious par-4 changed the championship and his career
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June 13, 2011

Three And Out

For two years running, Tom Lehman had top three finishes at the U.S. Open, but as he came down the stretch at Congressional it looked as if 1997 was going to be his year. Then one bad swing on a notorious par-4 changed the championship and his career

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Lehman trailed Els and Montgomerie by a shot as those two played 17, a 480-yard hole that Montgomerie had bogeyed the previous three rounds. Els went first, hitting a five-iron to 15 feet. Montgomerie, after a wayward six-iron right, chipped to five feet. Across the pond, by the nearby 18th, Montgomerie was disturbed by a ruckus in the crowd. Monty, of course, hears everything in Dolby Stereo. The sun-burned crowd grew boisterous. Montgomerie waited five minutes for a silence that never completely came before striking his putt.

"I asked Michael Bonallack [of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club] and the USGA official that was beside us, and also Ernie and his caddie, what the commotion was all about," Montgomerie said after his round. "I felt I had to wait to hit the putt. I didn't want to rush the most important putt of my life."

Monty didn't rush. He didn't make the putt, either. He was so distraught after the round that he cried. Going to 18, Els held the lead alone. Lehman, on 17, was the last threat. A small group of players had gathered inside the Congressional locker room to watch the coverage. ("I was in no rush to leave," Andrade says.)

As Lehman's ball took flight, camera 27 captured him closing his eyes and looking away. Roger Maltbie assured viewers that the ball was on a great lineā€”if it was long enough. But Lehman knew he had caught too much turf. From behind the 17th green, camera 17 picked up the ball in flight and followed its descent onto a bank short and left of the green. Lehman's ball hesitated for second, then rolled into the water, where the still pond rippled. Cut back to camera 27, which showed Lehman in anguish, squeezing the back of his cap so that it tipped forward and covered his face. He held the pose for 17 seconds, until the hat came off completely. Lehman stared blankly and began a long walk to a bogey that would leave him two shots out of the lead in the championship he wanted most.

Minutes later Els would stand on the 18th green, thrusting his youthful arms into the air after a one-shot victory over Montgomerie. Each had shot a one-under 69. Montgomerie, believing the finishing holes were too close together, implored the USGA to change the championship finish should the Open ever return to Congressional. (This year the former 18th hole has been reversed and redesigned and is now number 10.) Els spoke of the gravity and honor of winning two majors by age 27, in no way knowing the heartbreak that would shadow him in majors in the coming years. Lehman, who had led by two shots going into the final round before shooting 73, was achingly honest about his latest brush with the Open.

"I would give anything in the world for a mulligan," he said. "I had the perfect yardage, I thought, to a perfect pin. I knew it was my bread and butter, that shot, right to left, a little bit of a downhill, sidehill lie, which can help the ball turn. The only thing is, it's easy to catch it a hair fat if you don't watch out, and I did."

Lehman retired to the locker room, which was fast clearing out. Maggert saw his competitor and old mini-tour pal seated with his caddie. Lehman's head was down.

"You guys played your heart out," Maggert remembers saying. "You deserved to win. You'll get one soon."

Maggert is 47, in the twilight of his PGA Tour career. "I wish I could turn back the hands of time 10 years now," he says, "but I can't." Lehman is 52, a stalwart of the Champions tour. He never won the U.S. Open.

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