BLAINE, Minn. -- Tom Lehman was the grand master of the TPC Twin Cities’ redesign to get the course PGA Tour-ready.
Turns out, his re-creation fits his game fairly well, too.
Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, the 60-year-old shot a 4-under-par 67 in the first round of the inaugural 3M Open in Blaine, unexpectedly putting himself in early contention.
Lehman hit every fairway and didn’t bogey a hole, playing near-flawless golf in front of the home crowd.
And the fans showed their appreciation. Lehman was very much the local celebrity Thursday morning, July 4, in Blaine. He had a small army following him around from hole to hole, and others sitting at specific holes were sure to welcome the homegrown hero upon his arrival at their location.
There were countless shouts in the way of, “Way to go, Tommy!” throughout the round.
“Well, Minnesotans, they’re homers,” joked Lehman, a Gophers alum who was born in Austin and went to high school in Alexandria. “They like the Joe Mauers of the world and the Kent Hrbeks of the world. They love the homegrown people.”
They particularly love Lehman, who met every salute with a wave or a response as he worked his way around the course with his family. His youngest son, Sean, was on the bag, smiling throughout the morning, at one point lamenting the read of a putt on No. 17, joking that his dad didn’t trust his line. Lehman’s brother Jim and wife, Melissa, were among other family members in Lehman’s entourage.
Moments after Lehman birdied No. 1, his 10th hole of the day, a fan shouted, “Go get those young guys, Tom!”
Lehman’s response: “That’s impossible.”
It will be an uphill battle for Lehman to stay in contention, no doubt. The redesigned TPC Twin Cities is long, giving the bombers a big advantage.
“There’s some shots that I had to swing from the heels just to get it to the fairway,” Lehman said.
On No. 9, the 500-plus yard par 4 that served as Lehman’s finishing hole, Lehman said he “had to hit it as hard as I possibly could to try to get it to the green.”
“So it makes it tough for me, so I’m very pleased with 4 under,” he said. “I don’t necessarily feel like I can do that every day out here, but I think when I play well, I can.”
At least Lehman’s lack of length off the tee gives him one notable advantage. Included in the course redesign was the narrowing of a number of fairways. The fairways really start to narrow 310 to 320 yards down the hole, farther than Lehman can drive the ball.
“So my fairway is still a little bit wider,” he noted.
That’s one reason why he didn’t miss a fairway all day. Another is that he rarely hit a bad shot. He gave himself plenty of birdie chances, missing a few looks on his second nine that he probably wishes he had back.
But in the rare event he did get himself in trouble, he escaped.
On No. 3, Lehman hit a long bunker shot out of a slightly plugged lie, leaving him 20 feet for par, and he buried it. Then, on No. 8, Lehman was fooled by the wind, and his tee shot on the par 3 sailed over the green, finishing on the other side of the cart path. He hit his chip shot to within 21 feet and nailed that, too.
“There’s a lot to be said for being comfortable with a golf course,” Lehman said. “Even though we’ve made some changes to it, the greens are the same and I know the greens extremely well.”
The fact is, he’s played well all year. In 11 starts on the PGA Tour Champions this year, Lehman has seven top-20 finishes, including a tie for 11th at last week’s U.S. Senior Open.
“My game is good,” Lehman said. “I wonder why I don’t play great every day, but that’s the nature of golf.”
But he played well Thursday. Aside from the British Open, which Lehman often plays as a past champion, this is the veteran’s first PGA Tour event since 2015. And, on Thursday, he proved he can still play with some of the game’s best young guns. Who’s to say that can’t continue into the weekend?
“It’s a thrill for me to join these guys out here,” Lehman said. “It’s a thrill for me to tee it up again with these guys who are so good and who represent the game so well. To have a good first round makes me feel pretty good.”