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To Lehman, Desert Is No Sand Trap at All

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For anyone who can’t tell the desert without a cactus, we give you Tom Lehman, who is an expert.

Born in Minnesota, where there is a lot of snow, Lehman lives in Scottsdale, where there is a lot of sand. And as it turns out, Lehman appears fairly close to mastering the art of desert golf, at least locally.

A couple of weeks ago, Lehman was down the road at the Skins Game and won $300,000. This weekend, he’s at PGA West with partner Duffy Waldorf in the $2.1-million Diners Club Matches on the Nicklaus Course, where they defeated Mark Calcavecchia and Jeff Sluman and can win $220,000 if they defeat Steve Elkington-Jeff Maggert in today’s PGA Tour final.

Around here, Lehman-Waldorf are a familiar duo. They are as much a part of the local landscape map as the intersection of Gerald Ford and Bob Hope drives. Lehman-Waldorf won the Diners Club the last two years.

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Lehman said he likes this place, which is understandable.

“I could live in Palm Springs, I couldn’t live in Rancho Mirage, but I could live here,” he said.

He certainly can make a nice living here. Obviously, part of the reason is that Lehman enjoys full knowledge of all the little tricks involved with playing successful golf on desert courses such as this.

No. 1 on the list is always to avoid backing into cactus. Gil Morgan said there are a couple of other helpful tips to playing golf out here.

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“Wintertime is better,” he said. “The summer is pretty hot.”

A good sense of direction also comes in handy. Knowing where the Salton Sea is means knowing which way putts are going to break.

“That’s the lowest point around here,” Morgan said.

Lehman’s professional low point this year might have been the fact that he didn’t win a tournament, but that’s probably being a little severe. He finished second at La Costa, third at the U.S. Open, had nine top 10s and won $960,584.

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If there’s any problem with those kind of results, it’s that they can’t compare to what Lehman did in 1996, when he won the British Open, the money title and was the PGA Tour player of the year.

Lehman said 1998 will take care of itself, so he’s not going to worry about it.

“I always expect good things,” he said. “At this point, I’m just looking forward to some time off.”

Fair enough. Meanwhile, the other half of the partnership is just getting warmed up. Waldorf, the former UCLA Bruin, missed six cuts in three months, then finished with three top fives in his last five events. He won $458,074, which was No. 51 on the money list.

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Waldorf’s chronically creaky knees are also in fairly good shape. At least they don’t sound like someone stepping on peanut shells when he crouches.

One of the more colorful players on tour, Waldorf likes to have his older children--7-year-old Tyler, 5-year-old Shea and 3-year-old Kelli Ann--write messages on his balls.

But wife Vicky and all the kids, including 1-year-old Justin, aren’t with Waldorf this weekend. So Waldorf has taken the exterior decorating job for himself.

Waldorf selected a Christmas theme. He wrote “Santa’s Coming,” but also wrote “Justin is missing Daddy,” and “Kobe is on fire” on the balls he used Saturday. Obviously, Waldorf watched the Lakers win Friday night.

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Morgan and Jay Sigel went five playoff holes to defeat Bob Duval-Jack Kiefer in what began as a three-way playoff that also included Bruce Summerhays-Vicente Fernandez.

Morgan said it was a harrowing experience.

“Every hole, you had to stay on your toes or get run over,” he said.

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In the Senior PGA Tour final, Morgan-Sigel play Bob Eastwood-Walter Morgan.

Elkington-Maggert defeated Billy Andrade-Brad Faxon in the first hole of a playoff to move into the final.

Juli Inkster-Dottie Pepper will play Laura Davies-Nancy Lopez in the LPGA final.


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