Tee to Green: Lehman paid Flick fitting tribute

4:49 PM, Nov 8, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Legendary instructor Jim Flick died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 82 on Monday and the golf community promptly paid its appropriate respects.

"There have been only a handful of people in my life, who I can say with conviction influenced me both inside and outside the ropes," Jack Nicklaus, an undisputed legend in his own right, conveyed in a statement.

Nicklaus came to Flick late in his career, after capturing a record 18 major championships, but the latter still left an indelible mark.

In addition to guiding the Golden Bear to his first senior victory at the 1990 Tradition at Desert Mountain, Flick also made a suggestion which benefited scores of aspiring golfers in the years that followed.

From Nicklaus' statement:

"(Jim) came to me and said, 'Jack, you have got a legacy in the game of golf, and don't you think that legacy should be documented and used?' And I said, 'Yes.' Jim then took it upon himself to be the messenger of that legacy. So we started the Nicklaus-Flick Golf Schools, but more important, a close friendship that has lasted for decades."

The Nicklaus-Flick Golf Schools operated from 1991 to 2003.

Also paying recent respects was Arnold Palmer, who was a brief roommate of Flick's at Wake Forest during the early 1950s.

"I followed Jim's activities and fine career as a golf instructor and we communicated through the years quite a lot," Palmer said on his website Tuesday. "I'm very sorry that this has happened and extend my sincere sympathy to the Flick family."

Another of Flick's accomplished connections was Tom Lehman.

The pair met in 1990 at the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., where the instructor plied his trade for 20 years. While walking the course and hitting shots, Flick and Lehman formed a lasting bond which helped vault the latter from middling Hogan's Tour competitor to 1996 Open Championship winner.

It was fitting then, with Flick nearing the end, that Lehman stepped up to the tee at Desert Mountain last Thursday, looking to make history at the season- ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Cancer, as it often does, quickly and relentlessly struck Flick, and he was diagnosed with a terminal form of the disease just a few weeks before Lehman made the short trip from his Scottsdale home in an attempt to become the first-ever back-to-back Cup winner in Champions Tour history.

"With (Jim) being so sick, it's kind of a bitter-sweet week to kind of be here," Lehman said on the Wednesday prior to the tournament. "He is very interested to see what happens and I will give it my very best in terms of my position."

Lehman, who entered the event 211 points behind leader Bernhard Langer in the race for the Cup, stayed true to his word.

After rounds of 68 and 63, he overcame a 5-stroke deficit and vaulted to the top of the leaderboard with a 62 on Saturday -- marking his best-ever round on the Champions Tour.

The sparkling effort placed Lehman one shot ahead of Fred Couples entering the final day, in prime position to not only overtake Langer, but also pay fitting tribute to his longtime friend and instructor.

Flick was known as an instinctual teacher. He told Golfweek magazine shortly before his death that "Golf is an art form" and, after his passing, his family noted in a statement that "one of the things the game taught him ... was that golf is not about searching for the perfect swing or working at golf -- it's about playing golf."

Surely then, the pupil made his teacher proud on Sunday.

Lehman never trailed during the final round and deftly exhibited both time- earned skill and crafty improvisation while managing the heavy emotional burden.

Lehman's swing certainly wasn't perfect on the par-4 14th, when he sent his tee shot onto the lip of a fairway bunker. But, with his back foot in the sand, the veteran "just played golf," sending an awkward 7-iron onto the green, where he rolled home a downhill putt to initiate a string of three consecutive birdies.

When he wrapped up the 6-stroke win with a birdie tap-in on No. 18, Lehman finally succumbed to the weight of the moment, obscuring the oncoming the tears with the brim of his cap.

"The last four days have been somewhat difficult in a way and I've been trying to fight back tears at times because (Jim) and I spent so much time out here," Lehman said during the Cup presentation. "We would come up here and play. He'd walk the course with me and we worked on my game. Hopefully, he was able to watch today."

Flick passed away less than 24 hours later, but it was a fitting tribute indeed.

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