Recently, Tom Lehman was asked to walk fans through how he plays Desert Mountain Club’s Cochise Course, the venue for this week’s Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and home of the event through 2016. In 2012, Lehman, a Scottsdale resident, posted an all-time Champions Tour record-low 72-hole score of 258 (22-under) to win the event and claim the season-long Charles Schwab Cup, becoming the only player in history to win the Cup in back-to-back years. Jay Haas was runner-up to Lehman at Desert Mountain that year, finishing six strokes back. He recorded a 10-under 60 in the second round, which at the time tied the all-time low 18-hole score on the Champions Tour. Haas also shares his insight on how he went low on the Cochise Course.
TOM LEHMAN: Let’s start by saying you’re better off hitting greens than missing greens at Desert Mountain. It’s a typical Jack Nicklaus course, meaning it’s hard to recover, especially if you short side yourself. A lot of greens are diagonal greens and so you have to fire at the flagsticks and hit it the right distance, otherwise you’ve got to hit it short and right or long and left in order to avoid going through the green or being short. The angles are really important.
No. 1: The first hole is the shortest par 4 with a split fairway. It’s a 3 wood to the left where there’s a lot more room and then a short iron to the green.
No. 2: Two is a par 3 and the green is like a big bowl so it’s a pretty easy shot. You’ve just got to get it somewhere within the downhill slopes of the edges and you’re going to end up on the green somewhere.
No. 3: Three is a par 4 where there are trees right so you’ve got to keep it left. The tee shot’s everything. If you miss it right you’re in big trouble. You can’t really reach the green if you miss it right because you’re blocked out by trees, so you’ve got to keep it on the left side. It’s just a 7-iron or 8 iron in after a decent tee shot.
No. 4: Four is a short par 4 and you’ll have a short iron to the green after a good drive. It features a two tiered green left and right so it’s really important to be on the correct tier wherever the flagstick is located.
No. 5: Five has a lot of fairway to the right and a smaller amount of fairway to the left, which is split by a big bunker in the middle. I like to be aggressive off that tee and go left because it fits my tee shot best and shortens up the hole by two or three clubs.
No. 6: Six is a really short hole but you’ve got to put it in the fairway because the green is elevated and very small. It’s only a hybrid-type club off the tee and then a sand wedge, but the key is being in the fairway off the tee.
No. 7: Seven is a par 3 with water. That’s a good hole. You’ve got to stand up and hit a good shot. If there is any wind, it can be a little bit tricky, usually hurting or crossing in some direction so you’ve got to hit a pretty solid shot there. It can be anywhere from a 7 iron to a 5 iron, or maybe even longer if the wind’s in your face.
No. 8: Eight is a par 5, where if you hit a good tee shot you can attack the hole, knock it on in two, and hopefully make a birdie or eagle, but it’s hard to get it up and down if you miss the green.
No. 9: Nine is a 3 wood off the tee and an approach to an elevated green, which is long and narrow. This is a hole where if you drive it in the rough, it makes the hole a lot tougher, so you really need to put the ball in the fairway of the tee.
No. 10: The tee shot on 10 is pretty simple but it can be a tough little second shot to a very small green, which sits at a bit of a diagonal. There is a wash, or a gully, short and to the right of the green, so it’s easy to hit it left and long, which makes the chip really tough. You’ve just got to take dead aim on your second shot with a short iron and hit it straight at the flagstick.
No. 11: This par 3 has a really big green, which is kind of like two greens in one, the right front half and the back left half. You need to be aggressive and shoot at the part of the green where the flagstick is located because you can get a really tough putt if you don’t.
No. 12: Twelve is typically a par 5, which is shortened to a par 4 for the championship. It reQuires a blind tee shot over the corner, usually with a 3 wood, and then a 9 iron or a wedge to a front right pin.
No. 13: This is a short little par 3 down the hill. It’s just a pitching wedge, but if the wind blows it makes it tricky. Otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward little hole.
No. 14: I think this par 4 is the toughest tee shot on the golf course, for no other reason than the fairway sits at an odd angle with several bunkers left and a hill with rough on the right. If you miss the fairway, the hole becomes more difficult. If you hit it in the fairway, it’s pretty simple because it’s a really big green.
No. 15: Fifteen is a par 5 that is reachable. Hit a good tee shot and you can knock it on in two, but it’s an island green so it’s all a matter of playing the odds. What club do you have? What are the chances of hitting it in the middle of the green and two putting? Otherwise, you just lay it up and hit a lob wedge and make a birdie that way.
No. 16: This par 4 has a big huge rock in the middle of the fairway so you’ve got to either hit left or right or directly over it, so pick what you want to do. If you go left or right with a 3 wood, you’ll probably have a 9 iron in. With driver over the rock it’s just a short pitch remaining, so it depends on what you want to hit from the tee. It’s not that big a decision. It’s more about the line because you have to cross a wash or gully on the second shot, and if you hit it in the rough it can make it more difficult, but it’s a short hole, a birdie hole for sure. There is one really tough hole location though—when the flag is back right. In order to get it close, you’ve really got to challenge the back of the green, where it falls off dramatically. That is a tricky pin.
No. 17: This is a good long par 3 with a real diagonal green from front left to back right. It’s not a long tee shot to the front left. The middle of the green is very narrow but to the back of the green it’s a very long tee shot, so there’s three distinct parts of that green and really none of it is very easy. It’s a pretty tough hole.
No. 18: It’s all about the tee shot on this par 5. You drive it in the fairway, you’re trying to make eagle. It’s a short hole. I don’t see a whole lot of bad happening on this hole but a lot of good stuff can happen. Can you make a bogey? Maybe, probably anywhere you can, but the odds are way more in your favor of making an eagle than making a bogey.
Q: Tom, when you shot the 72-hole record 258 in 2012, is there anything specific that stands out to you now? Is there one shot or one hole that really made the difference that week?
TOM LEHMAN: I hit a lot of greens in regulation. Because of the diagonal nature of the greens, when you have a perfect yardage, you can go straight at it. If you’re not Quite right on the number, I think you’re smart to think of which diagonal direction is the green going and playing to one side and short or to the other side and long.
Q: So the rookies in the field this year will need to do their homework?
TOM LEHMAN: I think you can play the course a lot easier if you make your goal to hit greens first and then when you get the perfect number, then really get aggressive.
Q: Jay, what do you remember most about the 60 you shot in the second round in 2012 at Desert Mountain?
JAY HAAS: It seemed to be one of those days I almost didn’t know how many under I was. I was playing extremely well and every time I got a chance to make a birdie I did. I had numerous chances. I won’t say it was easy but things were going my way. I putted well. I do remember having a short bunker shot on 18 to shoot 59 and I hit a pretty good bunker shot to about three feet. It was a pretty magical day really.
Q: Would you say that’s your best round ever?
JAY HAAS: I shot 61 at the Palmer Course at the Bob Hope (now Humana Challenge) one year and literally did not know how many under I was. That was a par-71 course and the 60 here was 10-under. I’d be hard pressed to say I’ve played a better round anywhere else.
Q: Is there a stretch of holes at Desert Mountain where you can really make some birdies?
JAY HAAS: Actually, there’s a stretch of holes where you have to watch it, really pay attention. I think 7 and 9 are pretty difficult holes. And 17 is a demanding par 3. We usually get really good weather and it’s not a brutally long golf course. Holes 3 and 4 are pretty tough par 4s. There are half a dozen holes that if you play them even, or under par, you’ve got a really good chance to do well.
Q: Was there any point early in your round where you knew it was going to be special?
JAY HAAS: I was 3 under on the front nine and chipped in on 10, then birdied 11, 12 and 13. That stretch right there, to go from 3 under to 7 under, that changes your day right there. Especially with two par 5s left and I birdied both those.
Q: When did the possibility of 59 enter your head?
JAY HAAS: Probably right then when I got to 7 under and started thinking I’ve got these two par 5s left. So if you count those as birdies, that would be 9 under so I need two more (birdies) somewhere else. So, yeah, I was thinking about it. On 14, I had it about 10 feet under the hole which is a pretty easy putt as far as 10-footers go. I missed that one and the next hole I hit a nice shot into the par 5 to about 10 feet and missed that too, so those two putts right there—I’d made a bunch in a row on the previous holes—so those seemed pretty easy that day. Some days the hole looks really big and it did that day. So to miss those it was a disappointment.
Q: You shot 69 your next round. What’s the hardest part the next day after a low round?
JAY HAAS: I don’t’ think it’s difficult to come back. You probably compare one round to the next a little bit. But the fact is, a player’s scoring average is probably 69 point something or 70 point something. If a guy averages 18 points a game in basketball and he has 34 points in a game one night and then has 18 the next night, does he have a bad game? Well, no, it’s an average game. I shot 69 so it was probably around my average. The hardest part is to put together two rounds of extraordinary golf. It’s just not likely.