GLENVIEW — Tom Lehman found himself in an unfamiliar place Friday.
After a 7-under 65 that gave him the first-round lead at the Encompass Championship, Lehman had to make a somewhat rare trip to the interview room at North Shore Country Club.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the interview room,” the 55-year-old Lehman said. “I’m not even sure I remember how to get here. That’s how the year’s been. It’s been erratic, so it’s nice to be in here today, obviously.”
Lehman has nine starts on the Champions Tour this season, with five top-10 finishes and a tie for third at the Regions Tradition in mid-May. He’s coming off a tie for eighth and a tie for seventh in his last two events, but he said a balky putter has kept him from getting the most out of his rounds.
In an attempt to correct that, Lehman used a cross-handed putting grip — also known as a left-hand low grip — for part of this season. That experiment ended at the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa, June 1, when Lehman said he struggled to even start his putting stroke.
“It got to the point where I could hardly take [the putter] back,” said Lehman, who has not won on the Champions Tour since 2012. “I had a three-putt on the 18th hole from 15 feet. … And at that point, this left-hand low thing [was] not going to last long.”
Lehman, who won the 1996 British Open, had the ball rolling on Friday. Starting on the back nine, he rolled in an 8-footer for birdie on the par-5 11th. A 15-foot birdie putt on 15 moved him to 3 under, and he made three more mid-range putts during a stretch of four consecutive birdies on the front nine to surge into the lead.
“All of those mid-range putts are the ones I’ve been really struggling with, 15-footers, and today I was seeing the line, I was getting them online and the speed was just right,” Lehman said.
Sluman on Urlacher
Hinsdale resident Jeff Sluman got a good look Friday at what former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has been up to of late.
“You can see that he’s played a lot of golf during the offseason and didn’t have to nurse any injuries,” said Sluman, Urlacher’s partner in the two-day Encompass Championship pro-am event. “He’s hitting it long and straight, and amazing improvement.”
Urlacher, who played 13 seasons with the Bears before retiring after the 2012 season, shot a handicap-adjusted 9-under 63 in Friday’s first round. Sluman was equally impressive, carding a 67 that had him just two shots off of Lehman’s lead. Sluman opened with a birdie and never gave a shot back, adding birdies at 3, 9, 11 and 15.
He said rain in the area earlier this week contributed to lower scores across the board.
“The greens are soft and accessible today, so I expect some pretty good scores out there,” said Sluman, who won the 1988 PGA Championship. “When there’s not a lot of wind and the greens are accessible, guys are gonna tear it up.”
Win it for England
Even though he had a strong start to the Encompass Championship, England’s Roger Chapman wasn’t able to fully enjoy it because of his home country’s men’s soccer team.
Chapman shot a 6-under 66 at North Shore Country Club on Friday, putting him in position to make a run at his third Champions Tour title (he won the Senior PGA Championship and U.S. Senior Open in 2012). England, meanwhile, dropped its first two matches at the World Cup in Brazil. Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0 Friday, so England can’t advance out of Group D.
“The press will crucify them,” Chapman said. “We invented the bloody game. … I think we have too many foreigners in the Premier League, so it doesn’t help the youngsters in our country come through and play Premier League football and know what it’s like.
“And also they get paid too much. The passion doesn’t seem to be there. It looks as though they want to just go on holiday, basically.”
Lake Forest’s Chip Beck is tied for 25th after carding a 2-under 70 Friday. He finished with five birdies and three bogies.
Gary Hallberg, who grew up in Barrington, shot a 1-over 73.