Tom Lehman talks about faith

Tom Lehman tips his hat to the gallery on #16 during first round of the Masters. Photo by Mic Smith ..KEYW:SPORTS ..KEYW:MASTERS ..KEYW:GOLF

Each year, the Charleston Leadership Foundation organizes a prayer breakfast that draws about 1,000 people to the Charleston Area Convention Center and features a keynote speaker who talks on how faith influences his relationships and career. This year, the guest speaker is golf champion Tom Lehman.

The breakfast is scheduled for 7:15 a.m. Tuesday. Tickets cost $35 for an individual seat and $315 for a table of 10, and are available at

Lehman, who lives in Phoenix, turned pro at 23. In 1997, he was ranked the No. 1 golfer in the world. He won the British Open in 1996 and ended the year at the top in earnings. That year, he was named PGA Player of the Year. Lehman has played on three Ryder Cup teams and served as captain of the 2006 team.

The Post and Courier asked him about his faith and golf career.

Q: Ever been to Charleston? If so, do you have a favorite golf course?

A: I played in the Rice Planters Amateur Golf Tournament a couple of times while in college, but have never spent any time in the city of Charleston proper. Everyone I know who has been there tells me I am going to love being there, so I am looking forward to it. I wish I could give you an educated comment on the golf in and around Charleston, but I unfortunately have no experience there other than at Snee Farm (where the Rice Planters is played).

Q: What is your faith story? Did you have a Road to Damascus experience, or were you always part of a church-going family?

A: I was raised in a church-going family, going every Sunday and on all of the special days. ... However, at age 15 I realized it was not having any impact on my life at all and felt the need and desire to make it a priority.

Q: What role does your Christian faith play in your golf game and in your career as a pro athlete?

A: My belief and faith in God is the grid that everything in my life passes through. What you believe is the core of who you are, so, therefore, whether it is golf, my family, the things I get involved with in my hometown of Phoenix or just the daily choices I make, it is all influenced by my Christian beliefs. Golf is very much like life in that there are ups and downs, successes and disappointments: How you deal with them is what determines so much of what happens not only now but in the future. I believe the Bible and the words of Jesus provide a road map for how to deal with all of the challenges that come with both failure and success.

Q: You have a fan in Roger Warren, president of Kiawah Golf Resort. He said you were a gentleman and the golfer he most admired, “because of the way he conducts himself on and off the course.” Who is the golfer you most admire? Why?

A: First of all, Roger Warren is very kind to say what he said. I will be very honest with you: not winning the Ryder Cup in Ireland when he put his belief in me to lead the team as captain is something I have felt very badly about for the past six years. Roger stuck his neck out for me, believing I was the guy who could help turn around a pattern of defeat that was developing on the U.S. side. To this day, whenever I see him, I feel almost embarrassed because we got beaten so soundly during his time as the president of the PGA of America. I wish I could have delivered a victory for him and helped to make him a winning president.

As for who I admire, there are many people and for many different reasons. If I had to pick out a few, they would be Byron Nelson (for the complete man that he was: his faith, integrity, character, love for people and humility, even though he was one of the greatest players who has ever swung a club); Jack Nicklaus (the greatest player ever, the strongest mind ever, the greatest pressure player ever and a devoted family man); Tom Watson (one of the best players ever, a very principled man and a tough ... competitor. He has always had the best attitude on the golf course of anyone I know.); and Seve Ballesteros (one of the most charismatic players of all time and someone who always treated me well).

There are several guys who are more contemporaries of mine whom I respect greatly as well, guys like Loren Roberts, Bernhard Langer, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink, Webb Simpson, Phil Mickelson. ... Anytime you start naming names, you leave out people who should be in that list, so I will stop here but need to make clear that guys like Davis Love and Jonathon Byrd along with many others are all people I admire for the way they live their lives.

Q: How often are you on the golf course? Do you have a favorite to play?

A: I love golf, so I work quite hard at it. I love to prepare and practice, so I spend time nearly every day working on my game.

There are times when the best medicine is time off, so I do have days or even weeks where I don’t do much on the course, but it is always a strategy to stay rested and ready, both physically and mentally, rather than just being lazy or not enjoying it.

If I had one last day of golf to play, I would probably spend it at St. Andrews, Scotland, and would play the Old Course from the back tees. I say the back tees because when you play the Old Course, they do not allow you to play the back tees because they are used only for competitions. I have been kicked off the back tees before with the statement: “We know who you are Mr. Lehman. We know you are an Open champion, but the back tees are used only for competitions.”

So, I would break the rules and play the back tees, have a pint at the Dunvegan after the round, an amazing Indian food dinner at Balaka and then hang out at the little pub at the Old Course Hotel that sits right on the dogleg of the road hole.

If I had to choose one course in the U.S. to play, it would be Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902;