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Lehman recuperates from shoulder injury

Kohala Coast, Hawaii, January 8th 1999 - Tom Lehman can't play golf at present, but he's showing no signs of links withdrawal as he recuperates in Hawaii from shoulder surgery.

Lehman and his family spent three weeks in the Aloha State, including New Year's weekend at Mauna Lani Resort on the big island of Hawaii.

Lehman hurt his right shoulder playing with his children - Rachael, 8; Holly, 6; Thomas, 3 - at an amusement park in England during last year's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

''I tend to get a little overenthused,'' he says, smiling. ''I can't miss great times with the kids. But I need to have a little more restraint, especially two days before a major championship.''

He hoped rest would solve the problem, but the pain persisted. Dr. Lewis Yocum performed surgery on Lehman on November. 30 at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles.

''The doctors were amazed at how bad a shape it was in,'' he says. ''They said it looked like the shoulder of a guy who had been playing in the NFL for 10 years.''

There was deterioration in the joint. Lehman says bones were falling apart and ligaments needed to be reattached. His recovery is going well. The prognosis is excellent.

Lehman's right arm was in a sling for 10 days.

He has talked to Greg Norman, who recently returned to golf after a seven-month hiatus because of shoulder surgery.

''He told me to take rehab really seriously,'' Lehman says. ''He said give yourself more time than you think you need.''

Because he lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., Lehman hopes to make his 1999 debut at the January. 28-31 Phoenix Open.

''He said if he can't play the Phoenix Open, we're going to Mexico for the week,'' Melissa his wife added.

A more realistic target date might be the February. 24-28 Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship at La Costa in Carlsbad, Calif.

Lehman however, might be at a crossroads in his career. He'll be 40 in March. He hasn't won since the 1997 Loch Lomond World Invitational in Scotland and his last PGA Tour victory was The Tour Championship in 1996, when he was player of the year.

''Am I going to stay dedicated and work harder?'' he asks. ''Or will I slide and move more into golf course design?''

He's already designed these courses: The Gallery in Marana, Ariz; Troy Burne in Hudson, Wis; and Lake Jovita in Tampa, Fla.

Lehman delivers an emphatic answer to his rhetorical questions by emphasizing that he's a competitor first and foremost. He considers himself a late bloomer and figures he has four or five good years left if he takes care of himself.

''I don't see any reason why I can't be back in the winner's circle and the top 10 in the world rankings,'' he notes. Lehman finished 25th on the PGA Tour money list last year with $1,033,673, despite fighting shoulder pain much of the time. He was especially proud of his gritty performance in the PGA Championship in Seattle, where he tied for 29th. ''That was a huge success because the shoulder was killing me,'' he says. ''I couldn't draw the ball at all.''

He had surgery one day after winning $420,000 at the Skins Game at Rancho La Quinta Country Club in La Quinta, California.

He says the key is putting, a discipline in which he ranked 153rd on the PGA Tour last year. ''Putt well and you'll have a lot of chances to win,'' he says

Lehman started putting during the first part of his Hawaiian vacation at Princeville on the island of Kauai. He's chipping at home this week in Arizona as he plays the waiting game.

''The guys on Tour have a lot of talent, but I do, too,'' he says. ''There's no reason I can't compete with them.''