Playing with number 1

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I have been incredibly fortunate in golf.

Having grown up in New Mexico, I was a childhood friend and rival of Notah Begay. Begay would go on to attend Stanford University, become Tiger’s best friend in college, and years later he was a four-time PGA Tour winner.

My close high school friend and teammate was Rich Beem. Beem, as many of you may know, came out of nowhere to win the PGA Championship in 2002 over Tiger Woods.

My college teammate, and tournament roommate, was Tim Herron. ‘Lumpy,’ as he became to be known, went on to become a three-time PGA Tour winner.

My years in college were some of the glory years of college golf. I competed against the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Justin Leonard, Mike Weir and countless other players who have gone on to phenomenal careers.

All pales in comparison, however, to the time I got to play golf with the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world.

During the years of 1996 and 1997, I was a golf professional at a club in Santa Fe, New Mexico called Las Campanas. It is not uncommon for high-end private clubs to book a PGA Tour member to provide a clinic and day of golf for their membership.

Las Campanas was affiliated with the late Jim Flick, who had been an instructor for Jack Nicklaus, and at the time was most widely recognized for teaching Tom Lehman.

Through this relationship, we were able to book Lehman to put on a Monday outing with our membership in the spring of 1997. This day was booked in early 1996, and Tom was at the peak of his career.

However, he hadn’t won a major championship.

That all changed during the 1996 British Open, when Lehman finally won his first major championship.

As the months went by, Lehman continued to play great golf, and our membership eagerly awaited his visit in the coming months.

When April 1997 finally arrived, and a few days prior to Lehman’s arrival at Las Campanas, he became the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world.

His arrival was headline news, and our membership and staff were filled with excitement.

Upon arriving at the club, Lehman spent time chatting with everyone, before hosting a clinic on the practice range.

Throughout the day, I was able to drive him around the golf course to play a few holes of golf with some fortunate members.

The event concluded later that afternoon. I, along with a couple of others were set to drive Lehman back to the airport for his trip home.

With a few hours to spare, he invited us to play nine holes with him.

I couldn’t grab my sticks fast enough.

Moments later we stood on the 10th tee tossing up balls to form teams.

Lehman, myself and two of my co-workers were set for our match.  The next couple of hours were filled with laughter, serious concentration from a few of us and quite a bit of trash talking.

It was an experience I will always cherish.

Lehman could not have been more gracious with his time that day. He had reached his lifelong goal of becoming the No. 1 player in the world, and he was the most humble, down to earth gentleman you could hope to meet.

Oddly enough, Lehman’s world No. 1 ranking lasted only one week.

Who says timing isn’t everything?


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