Thomas Lehman admits that there has been some inherent pressure that comes with playing in the Resorters Golf Tournament every year.
After all, this is the course his dad – five-time PGA Tour winner and 1996 British Open champion Tom Lehman – grew up on. Saying the Lehman family has history at the Alexandria Golf Club is an understatement.
“Sometimes,” Thomas said of feeling that pressure to win here. “Just because this is my dad’s home course, home town. Everyone knows him and they know I’m his son, so there’s expectations. There’s definitely some pressure.”
At this point, Thomas is starting to brush that pressure aside.
In his early 20s now, he has played the Resorters for years and has been a part of the Men’s Championship Division the last handful of those. This year, with his dad on the bag with him, he is playing the best golf he has ever played at this tournament.
“His game has really progressed,” Tom said. “He really didn’t play golf until after he graduated from high school, so the last five years have been a real progression for him. He’s now getting to the point where he’s doing a lot of things really well. Not perfect, but his good golf now is extremely good.”
That was on full display on Friday. Thomas secured his first-ever spot in the Men’s Championship Division semifinals with a 6-5 win over Dylan Naylor of Fargo.
Joining him on Saturday morning from the 1st tee at 6:50 will be Cecile Belisle, Andrew Lindberg and Miles McCarthy. It’s a field that anybody could win, but Lehman is playing as well as anyone as he tries to capture his family’s third championship at the Resorters.
Thomas took off on No. 6 during his quarterfinal round against Naylor. He hit a 7-iron 220 yards to within five feet of the cup. That putt dropped for eagle, and the rest was history. He took over from there, birdying holes eight through 11 before another eagle on the par-five 12th.
“He really got things going. I was really proud of him,” Tom said. “He didn’t start out playing that great. He was 1-over par after five and I think he was six or seven under par after 13. Just went on a tear and it was fun to watch.”
It’s been part of a fun week for the whole Lehman family as another chapter is written in their history at this tournament. Tom won his Resorters title in 1980. In 2009, his brother Jim Lehman won a 5-4 match against Will Harris to add another one.
Thomas has had to wait awhile to be in this position. He is at a point now where he entered this year’s match-play portion of the tournament as one of the favorites after qualifying as the fourth seed by shooting 4-under par through 36 holes.
“It feels amazing. Years past, I’ve had a couple of tough draws on the first matches and ended up playing some good players,” Thomas said. “Being able to win three in a row after not making it past the first match the last few times really feels good. It feels nice to have everyone supporting me, and I can’t wait for (Saturday).”
Thomas and his dad shared a couple special rounds in mid-July when Thomas caddied for Tom at the British Open. Past champions get an exemption into the Open Championship, but there’s an expiration date on that. It only applies to former winners 60 and younger.
With Tom turning 60 in March, he knew the tournament at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland would likely be the last time he played in the event that was his only major championship.
“Having him caddy for me at the British Open, my last one, was special,” Tom said. “We’ve had some good weeks together when he was caddying for me.”
Tom is returning the favor this week by being on the bag for Thomas.
“He’s been awesome,” Thomas said. “He’s helped me quite a bit reading greens and choosing clubs. Just him being on the bag with me means so much if I could end up winning this. Even if I don’t pull it off, this whole week has been amazing with him on the bag.”
Tom called it a huge advantage for him having grown up in Alexandria and playing at AGC forever. He knows the greens and how the ball reacts out of the rough. That’s different in different parts of the country, including around Scottsdale, Ariz. where the Lehmans live.
“You almost never hit a ball that doesn’t jump out of the rough,” Tom said of AGC. “He’s not used to that. I think I’ve been really helpful to him reading the greens and then selecting the right clubs. He’s hit some great shots out of the rough where instead of hitting eight iron, he’s hit wedges or something. That was a big adjustment for him.”
Tom said Thomas’ natural golf swing has always been pretty good – a product of growing up around many of the best players in the world while following along with his dad on the tour. Being right beside him on the course all week has been beneficial for both father and son as Thomas continues to try to grow his game and his dad tries to help with that.
“I love to see this with all of my kids,” Tom said. “The girls were competitive cheerleaders. My two boys played football and golf. Just to kind of be a part of what they do and help them along the way, that’s what I love.
“To be able to carry the bag for him, I learn more and more the way he thinks on a golf course. What you may take for being down on himself is more being angry at himself and motivating himself. The more I know how he thinks, the better I’ll be able to give him good advice.”
The two hope they have a couple more rounds to play together this week. Thomas is well aware of his family’s history at the Resorters. He’ll try to add to it on Saturday.
“It’d be kind of coming full circle,” Tom said. “I’ve won, my brother won, but there’s two tough matches ahead. Everybody who is still left is a really good player, so no guarantees. Anybody can be beaten, but I know for a fact there’s nobody we’re afraid to play. If he can go out and play his game and is fortunate enough where things go his way and the putts drop and he can sneak out a victory, I think that would be a pretty sweet celebration.”