MINI-TOUR PROVES FRUITFUL.
Mini-tour players and alumni everywhere got a chance to cheer last weekend - two chances.
Two of their own came up big at the highest level Sunday, first when former Ben Hogan Tour Player of the Year Tom Lehman won the 125th British Open, then later in the day when Nike Tour regular Willie Wood won the PGA Tour's Deposit Guaranty Classic in Mississippi.
For Lehman, the former Wood Ranch Country Club teaching pro who labored parts of five years in golf's minor leagues, the victory at Royal Lythan and St. Annes Golf Club in England was proof that he really needed only for himself.
``That's always been my fear,'' he said after winning arguably the world's most prestigious tournament, ``you know, having on my gravestone, `Tom Lehman - he couldn't win the big one.' ''
It would take a big stretch and total negativism to regard Lehman as someone who couldn't win a big one, even before the British open.
Not much in golf is bigger than the Ryder Cup, and no American performed better than Lehman in last year's Ryder competition at Oak Hill, where his 3-0 record was one of the few U.S. highlights in a team loss to Europe.
And no golfer anywhere has a better overall record in majors in recent years than Lehman. He placed third and second in two of the past three Masters and went 3-2 in the past two U.S. Opens before holding off the likes of Nick Faldo and Ernie Els, among others, in winning by two strokes Sunday when he completed a 67-67-64-73 tournament at Royal Lytham.
Don't be surprised if Lehman - No. 1 on the Hogan (now Nike) Tour in '91 - doesn't also wind up as Player of the Year on the PGA Tour. He might own just three career PGA victories, but they came in events every pro would like to win - at Jack Nicklaus' Memorial in 1994 (where Lehman set a 72-hole tournament record of 268 while beating Greg Norman by five strokes), at Byron Nelson's Colonial National Invitation last year and at last week's British, where his third-round 64 and three-round total of 198 were both course records.
He enters this week ranked third in PGA Tour earnings for the year, ranked second among American contenders for this year's Presidents Cup team and ranked first among U.S. contenders for next year's Ryder Cup team.
It wasn't all that long ago when Lehman was chipping balls on the La Crescenta front lawn of his wife-to-be Melissa, wondering if he should have taken that golf-coaching job at University of Minnesota (where he was twice Big Ten runner-up) and also wondering if he would ever get back to the show.
He had struggled through three lean seasons on the PGA Tour from 1983-85, cracking the top 25 just three times in 74 tournaments. But he returned a stronger and more focused player in '92, crediting the support of his wife and the competition he faced on the Ben Hogan Tour.
Now, at age 37, the popular journeyman has gone full trail, much to the appreciation of his former minor-league rivals. He's not only a winner of the world's oldest golf tournament but also the first American to win at Royal Lytham since Bobby Jones in 1926.
``It hasn't sunk in yet,'' Lehman said afterward. ``It was a real grind out there.''
In his case, ``out there'' could have meant Sunday's closing round or his entire career.
If Lehman gave the rest of the Nike grinders reason for early-morning cheering, Wood kept them stirred up in the afternoon, concluding a 68-67-66-67-268 showing for a 20-under-par victory at the Deposit Guaranty Classic to earn a two-year PGA Tour exemption and a berth in next year's Masters.
It was the first-ever PGA win for Wood, 35, a 14-year veteran who, like Lehman, had to refine his game in the mini-tour ranks. He had ranked ninth in Nike earnings after 13 tournaments this year before his inaugural PGA Tour win.
The former Oklahoma State golfer and 1977 U.S. junior amateur champion, who once shot a 61 as an Arizona high school student, earned more with Sunday's $180,000 paycheck than he had in any previous season.
He also extended a recent history of breakthroughs by mini-tour graduates, who have combined to produce six first-time PGA Tour victories this year as well as the past two British Open champions - Nike Tour alum John Daly won the Claret Jug last year at St. Andrews.
Dave Lancer, who has advanced from Notre Dame High School in the early 1970s to PGA director of information, says the depth of quality on the Hogan and Nike tours has probably forever changed the way the game will be played by rookies on the PGA Tour.
``Players no longer come up looking to learn how to win,'' Lancer said. ``They come up already knowing how to win.''
Names in the game: Todd Golditch, who will be a senior at Chatsworth High School this fall, shot 72-68-140 to win this week's SCPGA junior qualifier at Victoria Club in Riverside, earning a berth in the Aug. 19-22 Maxfli national junior final at West Palm Beach, Fla.
Mike Mitchell of Mission Hills reached the final of the SCPGA match-play championship Wednesday at San Gabriel Country Club before losing 2 and 1 to Randy Peterson of Alondra Park. Peterson, 5-under par for the 17 holes, won with a 20-foot birdie on his final putt after Mitchell had pulled within one by holing out from a bunker on No. 16. Mitchell reached the final with a 5 and 4 win over Brad Stormon, who had eliminated Ted Lehmann of Westlake Village 3 and 1 in the quarterfinals.
THIS WEEK PGA TOUR CVS Charity Classic
Dates/Site: Thursday-Sunday, at Sutton, Mass.
Course: Pleasant Valley Country Club (7,110 yards, par 71).
Purse: $1.2 million.
Winner's Share: $216,000.
Television: The Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 3-5:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1:30-4 p.m.).
Last year: Fred Funk closed with a 2-over 73 for a one-stroke victory over Jim McGovern. Funk, who opened 66-63-66, had a 16-under 268 total.
Last week: Tom Lehman won the British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, beating Mark McCumber and Ernie Els by two strokes. Lehman shot 67-67-64-73 for a 13-under 271 total. . . . Willie Wood won the Deposit Guaranty Classic in Madison, Miss., for his first tour title.
LPGA TOUR Heartland Classic
Dates/Site: Thursday-Sunday, at St. Louis.
Course: Forest Hills Country Club (6,337 yards, par 72).
Winner's Share: $82,500.
Last year: Swedish star Annika Sorenstam had a season-high 10-stroke victory, finishing with an even-par 72 for a 10-under 278 total.
Last week: Dottie Pepper won the Friendly's Classic at Agawam, Mass., closing with a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke margin over Brandie Burton. Pepper, who won the Rochester International and ShopRite Classic in consecutive weeks in June, had a 9-under 279 total on the Crestview course.
SENIOR PGA TOUR Ameritech Senior Open
Date/Site: Friday-Sunday, at Hawthorn Woods, Ill.
Course: Kemper Lakes Country Club (6,830 yards, par 72).
Purse: $1.1 million.
Winner's Share: $165,000.
Television: CBS (Saturday, 1:05-1:45 p.m. and 4-6 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30-6 p.m.).
Last year: Hale Irwin won the first of four senior titles, finishing with a 6-under 66 for a seven-stroke victory. He had a tournament-record 21-under 195 total on the Stonebridge course.
Last week: Argentina's Vicente Fernandez won the Burnet Classic at Coon Rapids, Minn., closing with consecutive 4-under 68s for a one-stroke victory. He had an 11-under 205 total on the Bunker Hills course.
MEMO: Dave Shelburne is a Daily News staff writer. The golf column appears Thursday.
Box: THIS WEEK (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jul 25, 1996|
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