Tom Lehman’s sons would tag along with him on golf courses, some of the most famous in the world, growing up.
But no pressure. He allowed them to explore their love in multiple sports.
For Sean Lehman, a pretty good quarterback, he turned his love of football into becoming one of the state of Arizona’s top high school cornerbacks.
He had a breakthrough game against Phoenix Horizon High School, three weeks after being sidelined by an injury, making stop after stop and pass breakup after pass breakup, as a junior for Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep.
But, as everybody saw last spring, there was always a chance that COVID-19 could blindside football this fall.
So that’s why you found Sean Lehman teeing off the golf season with his Notre Dame teammates at the Ocotillo Golf Club in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb.
This is his first high school golf season. This also marks the high school sports competition in more than five months.
“I’m excited,” Sean said. “Every year, football and golf were the same season. As of right now, football is so questionable. My coaches are like, ‘Sean, you need to go for golf.’ I was, ‘Sounds good.'”
The official start date to practice for football is Monday.
“He has the talent to succeed in both sports,” Notre Dame football coach George Prelock said. “He will be able to manage it because is focused, and he is driven to be the best he can be.”
Coronavirus infection numbers have been decreasing in Arizona. But the way COVID-19 has played with everybody’s head since March, there is no telling if and when a spike will blow the season off the map.
Golf, it appears, is COVID-proof
Players can easily physically distance themselves away from each other. They’re only touching their own clubs. They’re not picking up sand rakes and hole pins. And, this season, the AIA is using electronic scoring. So no need to touch the scorecard and pencil in your scores.
Even when COVID first hit Arizona in the spring, most golf courses in the Valley remained open.
“I definitely encouraged him to talk to the coaches first,” said Tom Lehman. “The start of the (football) season was pushed back to October (Oct. 2 is Notre Dame’s first game). That opens a window where he can play golf. He might as well take a run at, as long as the coaches are OK with it. As the season progresses, we’ll see if it works.”
Sean Lehman, like his older brother Thomas, has a natural swing on the golf course, helped by imitating their father on the course.
For a week in 1997, Tom Lehman, now 61, was the No. 1-ranked player in the world. He won one major, the Open Championship, in 1996. He was named Player of the Year on three PGA Tours: the regular tour, the then-Web.com Tour and the PGA Tour Champions.
Thomas Lehman Jr., who played both football and baseball at Notre Dame Prep, didn’t pick up a golf club much in high school until he got to college. After a red-shirt year at TCU, he walked on Cal Poly’s golf team and his game took off. He recently turned pro.
To break COVID boredom this summer, Sean would golf.
He gained 60 yards in his drive since last year just be growing and getting stronger. He’s found a way to control his new-found power. Sean was in Minnesota for two months with his dad this summer, playing in tournaments. He won one small tournament in Alexandria. He said he would practice football there, thinking maybe he would stay in Minnesota if Arizona didn’t have high school football this fall.
“Imitation is one of the biggest ways they learned as a kid,” Tom Lehman said of his sons.
Football in the Lehman blood
Tom was a high school quarterback in Minnesota, where he learned the game from his father Jim, who played running back at St. John’s and in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts.
Sean said it’s easy having his father watch him play football. At the stadium, Tom isn’t always the ultra-composed figure he displays on the golf course. He’ll be part of the chain crew at Notre Dame.
“My dad, I think he personally likes watching us play football better,” Sean said. “He loves it. He got kicked out of a game last year when he was on the chain gang. He gets into it.”
Sean said his father makes it a priority to make Friday night games even during his golf season.
“He’ll fly in for a night and fly back so he can watch the game,” Sean said.
Playing golf at Notre Dame could be different. Sean Lehman isn’t so sure how it will be with his dad watching him drive the ball.
“For golf, I don’t like him watching,” Sean said. “It’s a lot of pressure. I show up on the first tee. I don’t practice. These guys have all been working on it. I’ll go out and they’ll say, ‘That’s Tom Lehman’s kid. He must be insane.’
“Of course, I want to live up to it. But I don’t know.”
Tom Lehman has always taught Sean on the golf course with the main advice being, “Keep your cool.”
Tom calls himself one of many parents with an opinion, who wants to see his sons do well. No different than any other parent.
But he realizes his son feels pressure on the golf course when he shows up, because he knows people are looking at him with, ‘That’s Tom Lehman’s kid, he must be good.”
Tom Lehman reminds Sean to just enjoy each moment he has in sports while he can.
“To play the sports you love, now is the time to play them,” Tom Lehman said.