Tom Lehman’s youngest son, Sean, celebrated his 14th birthday Saturday. He had a simple request for his dad entering the final round of the Tucson Conquistadores Classic.
“Dad, for my birthday, I want you to win this thing,” Sean told his father.
“Well, I’m three shots behind Steve Stricker; the chances are slim,” Tom replied. “But I’ll do my best.”
Lehman’s best turned out be just good enough.
The Scottsdale resident edged Stricker by one shot Sunday to conclude a back-and-forth duel on the Catalina Course at Omni Tucson National Resort.
The victory was Lehman’s 10th on the PGA Tour Champions and his first since 2015. It was also his third professional win in the state of Arizona.
“Where you win and who you beat, those two things are really the things that you think about when you think back on victories,” Lehman said. “So to win here in Arizona, here in Tucson, and then to beat Steve Stricker … is something that I’m very proud of.”
Lehman shot a 7-under 66 Sunday to finish at 20 under par. After sinking a 1-foot par putt on the 18th hole to clinch the victory, Lehman shared the prize — the iconic Conquistadores helmet — with Sean. He wasn’t the only member of Lehman’s family to benefit from Tom’s triumph.
Daughter Rachael is getting married next month. She, her sister, Holly, and their mother, Melissa, were in New Orleans this weekend for Rachael’s bachelorette party.
“This check just paid for the wedding,” said Lehman, who earned $255,000 for the victory.
As Lehman noted, Stricker entered Sunday with a three-stroke lead after a sizzling second-round 63. He was seeking to become the 19th player to win his Champions Tour debut.
Stricker had played the first two holes in 5 under par over the first two days. Sunday was a different story.
After hitting a perfect drive on No. 1, Stricker misjudged the wind on his approach shot. The ball plugged in the front bunker. While Stricker bogeyed the hole, Lehman made par. The lead had shrunk to two.
One hole later, it was gone. Stricker pushed his drive on the 535-yard par-5 into a trap to the right of the fairway. He had to lay up and ended up with a par. Lehman, meanwhile, reached the green in two, hitting a 6-iron to about 4 feet. He sank the eagle putt. Suddenly, they were tied.
“I felt like I was behind the eight-ball right away,” Stricker said.
“That was a big deal,” Lehman said. “To be three shots down and to erase that entire lead on two holes put everything on an even level. But … I have momentum and you don’t.”
Lehman took the lead for the first time with a birdie on No. 5 and expanded his advantage to two with another birdie on No. 6.
A birdie on No. 8 turned the tide back in Stricker’s favor. He made four birdies in a five-hole stretch, and another on No. 15 gave him a two-shot lead.
Everything changed on the par-3 16th. Stricker’s approach landed about 50 feet below the hole; he three-putted for a bogey. Lehman rolled in a 20-footer for birdie. They were tied again heading to the 17th tee.
“I stole all the energy walking off that green,” Lehman said.
“That was really the tournament,” Stricker said.
Both birdied the par-5 17th. The Catalina Course’s famed finishing hole would decide the tournament, whether in regulation or in a playoff.
Lehman hit his driver and found dry land. Stricker hit what he thought was a perfect 3-wood. But as happened to last year’s champion, Woody Austin, the ball bounded through the fairway into the left water hazard. The difference: Austin led by two shots. He made bogey and won by a stroke. Stricker made bogey and lost by one.
“He put the pressure on all day long,” Stricker said of Lehman. “I just didn’t have enough there at the end.”
Lehman saved perhaps his firmest hug for his caddie, Doug Summers. Summers is the husband of Joanie Summers, the Lehmans’ longtime personal assistant. Doug always had wanted to caddie for Lehman, and Tucson presented the ideal opportunity.
Like Lehman’s son, his caddie for the week wasn’t just along for the ride.
“I want that helmet,” Summers told Lehman. “I’m not going back to Phoenix without that helmet.”
It was easier said than done. Lehman had played only one event this year after November elbow surgery. But Summers’ appeal put positive thoughts in Lehman’s head.
“It definitely got me thinking, hey, there’s no reason why we can’t play well,” Lehman said. “Let’s go try and get that helmet.”