Lehman creating a classic

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

THORNBURY, Ont. -- Next week's U.S. Open will give Tom Lehman more than the usual reasons to appreciate golf in its classic form.

As a student of course design and a budding architect, Lehman will soak up the subleties of the Donald Ross treasure, Pinehurst No. 2.

The five-time Tour winner and 1996 British Open champ also will hope to build on his rejuvenated play of late on a layout that inspires him.

And while he's at it, the Austin, Minn., native will remember the man who won the 1999 Open at the same famed piece of North Carolina real estate -- the late Payne Stewart.

"There will be a lot of focus on Payne next week and there should be," Lehman said yesterday while surveying the Raven Golf Club at Lora Bay, which he is co-designing with renowned Canadian architect Tom McBroom.

"I think the golf world will once again realize it is missing somebody who was pretty special. He had a style about him not many guys had."

When Stewart won the second Open of his career, it oozed drama, both in the moment and months later. The then 42-year-old sealed the win with a 15-foot, snaking, par-saving putt on the final hole to defeat Phil Mickelson by a stroke.

After a celebratory fist pump, Stewart held Mickelson's face in his hands imploring his opponent to take consolation in the child his wife Amy was about to deliver.

The fist pump is the lasting memory of Stewart, immortalized with a statue behind the 18th green at No. 2. Four months after winning the Open, one of the Tour's most colourful personalities was killed in a plane crash.

"I didn't know him too well until the last few years of his life and there was more depth to him then," Lehman said. "He was always very outgoing and gregarious but with a little more humility at the end. To me, he was quite a special guy.

"The way (he won the Open), the style he did it in, really said a lot. Making that putt and that reaction was all part of his flair and his charisma and it wasn't concocted."

Similarly, there isn't much contrived about Lehman's appearance on the shores of Georgian Bay, where he is immersed in the construction of the Lora Bay layout.

Unlike many big-name pros who enter the design business, Lehman, who has his own design company, has been active in the development trading his ideas with McBroom. Seeding will begin on the course in the coming weeks with a scheduled June 2006 opening.

"He is not a ribbon-cutter," McBroom said of the captain of the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team. "He's not one of those guys that comes in for opening day, gets a nice cheque and away they go. Tom has been here a dozen times. He knows his stuff."

As he'll be reminded next week on the sandy soil of North Carolina, Lehman knows a classic when he sees it.


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