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Tom Lehamn still linked to Brookline Ryder Cup

Tom Lehman has a videotape of the Ryder Cup that he keeps as much for proof as posterity, and not just because 1999 was the only time in the last 12 years the Americans won.

Of particular interest is the 17th green at Brookline.

In what became the most indelible image in Ryder Cup history, Justin Leonard made a 45-foot birdie putt that ultimately clinched an unlikely U.S. victory and unleashed a celebration that crossed the line of etiquette. American players, caddies and wives raced onto the green, even though Jose Maria Olazabal still had a putt to tie.

It was ugly.

It was wrong.

And apparently, it's not over.

Not long after Lehman was introduced in November as the next Ryder Cup captain, just about every reaction coming out of Europe began with something that happened five years ago and lasted only 42 seconds.

Lehman knows how long because he watched the tape with a timer in his hand.

``There ought to be a movie,'' Lehman said. ``Call it, ``The 42 Seconds to Eternity.' From the time the ball went in the hole when Justin made that putt until the time the green was clear was 42 seconds. I wanted to see how long it took.''

Lehman agrees it was a mistake, but an honest mistake.

``But the statute of limitations has run out,'' he said. ``It's time to move on.''

Fat chance.

Lehman, more than any other player, for some reason has become the poster boy for bad behavior at Brookline.

He was 3-0 in Ryder Cup singles, beating Seve Ballesteros in a riveting match at Oak Hill in 1995, and never missing a green in regulation when he beat Lee Westwood in 1999.

No one mentioned that when he was named captain.

He is a former British Open champion and PGA Tour player of the year, and he played in the final group at the U.S. Open four straight years.

Hardly anyone mentions that these days.

If people want to criticize his selection as captain, they could look at his overrated record compared with other candidates -- only five PGA Tour victories and three Ryder Cup teams.

No one talks about that, either.

It's all about Brookline.

And even though players don't hold it against Lehman, they continue to associate him with Brookline.

Consider this opening comment from Padraig Harrington:

``I certainly think it was a good choice of captain for them. I think he'll do a good job. I've said this before about Brookline ...''

And from Paul McGinley:

``I played with him the year he won the Open, and I've always found him to be a perfect gentleman. Now I didn't play in Brookline ... ``

Colin Montgomerie was asked recently why Lehman gets singled out for all the bad blood from 1999. Quietly and quizzically, without a hint of criticism, he replied, ``Well, he was first on the (17th) green, wasn't he?''

Monty couldn't be sure, playing in the match behind. All he saw was a blur of ugly maroon shirts worn by the Americans that day, and worse yet, maroon sweaters and cream-colored skirts worn by the wives.

``I've seen it a billion times,'' Jim Furyk said. ``I haven't watched that closely to see where Tom was. But for a million dollars, I couldn't swear he was even on the 17th green.''

Why pick on Lehman?

``No idea,'' Tiger Woods said. ``It wasn't like he was the only one.''

During his study of the 42 seconds, Lehman found out exactly where he was.

First out of the pack was the late Bruce Edwards, who was in charge of the caddies that week. Then came another caddie, presumably Bob Riefke, who was working for Leonard. Then it was Woods, with a 40-inch, spread-eagle leap before sprinting toward Leonard. He was followed by Davis Love III.

And then Lehman.

``I know I was the fifth,'' Lehman said. ``And I know I never set foot on the green. Not that it matters.''

In some respects, Lehman was a victim of timing.

In the immediate aftermath, when European blood was boiling, Sam Torrance singled out Lehman on Sky TV when he called the incident disgusting and said of Lehman, ``And he calls himself a man of God.''

European captain Mark James, the ultimate goat at Brookline, took Lehman to task in his book for leading the gallery in a rendition of ``God Bless America.''

Lehman said he threw a roundhouse fist pump after making a big putt during one of his matches, and a European player he declined to identify shot him a nasty glare. He confronted the player a month later.

It couldn't have been the fist pump. Europeans don't exactly tip their caps when a big putt drops.

``He said, 'It was out of your character.' That was the answer,'' Lehman said, shaking his head. ``I guess they thought it was out of character for me to be so emotional.''

Lehman said he and Torrance have made their peace, and that Torrance sent him a nice note upon his selection as captain. And he believes, as Hal Sutton said during his tenure, that it's time to move on.

Whether that happens is doubtful.

Fred Couples might have summed it up best when asked why Europeans continue to bring up Brookline whenever Lehman's name is mentioned:

``Probably,'' Couples said, ``because he's the captain.''


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