By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
Published October 28, 2005
PALM HARBOR - Tom Lehman is like any American golfer who would love to play for the Red, White & Blue in the Ryder Cup.
But there is one huge difference between Lehman and others vying for a spot on the 2006 team: He will captain it.
Lehman, 46, will lead the U.S. team that will try to end a two-match losing streak to Europe next September in Ireland. Unlike other captains who have stressed that being the captain is their sole role, Lehman does not shy away from talk of playing, too.
"All I want is the 12 best players no matter who they are or where they are from," said Lehman, who shot 4-under-par 67 Thursday during the first round of the Chrysler Championship to trail leader Jeff Brehaut by two strokes. "No matter how old they are or how young they are, that's who I want.
"If I'm playing at that level, or I am definitely one of them, the answer to would I play would be absolutely yes. I'm not there yet. But I'm working on it. But we want the 12 best guys."
Lehman, who won the 1996 British Open but has not won on the PGA Tour since 2000, is 14th in the Ryder Cup team standings. The top 10 through next year's PGA Championship automatically make the team. Lehman then has two at-large selections, although he said he would not take himself.
And he added that he would decline his spot on the team if he were among the top 10 but playing poorly.
"I definitely believe in setting goals, and you want to set them high," Lehman said. "If I thought it was an unattainable goal, I wouldn't even ponder it. But there is no doubt in my mind that if I'm healthy and motivated and working hard, and if I can make a few putts, I've got as good a chance as anybody.
"I'm kind of looking at Jan. 1 as a green light goes on, everybody takes off running. I hope to be running right there with them. For a number of reasons. Personally, I would like to make the team. I went to the Presidents Cup. It was great watching them play, but I wished I was out there playing. I would love to be a part of a team that wins the Ryder Cup. The winning captain would be great. Being a part of the winning team would be super great."
As far as immediate goals, Lehman would love to make next week's year's Tour Championship, in which he played nine of 10 years from 1992 through 2001, but none since. He is 44th on the money list and would need to finish at least among the top four in the Chrysler Championship to have a chance.
"The reason for playing here is I still have a chance for the top 30, and it would certainly be nice to do that," Lehman said. "I think I went about nine or 10 years in a row in the top 30 and haven't been in there for awhile. So it would be kind of nice to get back in the group."