England's next big thing ready to follow in legend Watson's footsteps
Great things are expected of Tom Lewis, not least by his dad who named him after the man he plays with tomorrow
Wednesday 13 July 2011
Tom Lewis has a simple ambition. He wants to win one more major than Sir Nicholas Faldo and take over the memorial cabinet at the golf club in Welwyn Garden City where they both learned to play the game. "That would be nice," he said here yesterday.
That's "nice" as in it might indeed happen, not "nice" as in it is a dream based in the outer limits of fantasyland. When Tom Watson partners the 20-year-old amateur in tomorrow's first round of the Open Championship, he will discover that Lewis is an amiable young man who is rather confident of his destiny.
The five-time champion will also find out that Lewis was named in his honour. "He was always my father's favourite golfer," explained Lewis. "My younger brother's name is Jack. When the draw came out on Monday I think Dad was more excited and more nervous than I was. I don't think he believed me at first. He's coming down here tomorrow and is obviously looking forward to it."
As is the player himself, although don't expect Lewis to be overawed. He spotted Watson walking up the 18th fairway yesterday and ran across to introduce himself. Did he refer to him as Mr Watson or Tom? "Tom," said Lewis. The question clearly mystified him a bit.
But then Lewis is not your average young golfer. For the past few months agents have been fighting it out for his signature, with the giants of International Management Group eventually prevailing. "I'm going to turn pro the day after the Walker Cup in September," he said. "Unless I win here." Lewis wasn't joking.
Why should he have been? He is coached by the same instructor who oversees Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Henrik Stenson. "Tom is the most professional amateur I've ever seen," said Pete Cowen, who has worked with him for four years. "He knows what he's doing, knows what he wants to do, he's got a path and nothing will stop him following that path."
Cowen has seen them come and seen them go awry. The Yorkshireman's mood implicated Lewis will not be one of the casualties and his optimism is replicated throughout the game. Nigel Edwards, the Walker Cup captain who will lead the amateurs of Great Britain and Ireland into battle against the United States at Royal Aberdeen, talks about him in the same breath as two former team-mates – Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy. "He's good," says the Welshman.
His results prove it. The amateur titles have arrived in haste – recently he won the St Andrews Links Trophy at the home of golf – and so, very nearly, did a professional title. Last November, when still a teenager, Lewis beat many European Tour regulars in the New South Wales Open before being pipped in a play-off by Peter O'Malley, the Australian who beat Tiger Woods in the 2002 World Match Play. Lewis went on to finish 12th in the Australian Open.
The cat had leapt out of the bag, but in Hertfordshire they had known about his quality for years. Lewis started when he was four. His father, Bryan, was a teaching professional who had a few years on Tour and played with Welwyn Garden City's most famous son. "I owe my father everything and without him I wouldn't be here," he said. "I don't really know Faldo. I think I met him when I played in his junior series. At our club there is this big tribute to him and his six majors. It would be nice to get to seven."
Of course, he recognises it would be nice to get one first and he is not totally discounting that possibility here this week. "I won the British Boys Championship here two years ago and, like St Andrews, I think Sandwich suits me," he said. "Most of the pros don't play much links golf, but that's basically all we play on the amateur circuit. So there's no excuse. Look what Chris Wood did a few years ago when he was an amateur [the Bristolian finished fourth in 2008]. If I can play well this week, I can compete. If I don't then I'll be going home on Saturday. But whatever, this will be experience which can be of real benefit to my career in the future. Just to meet and talk to Tom Watson will be great."
Lewis was reminded that the last amateur Watson partnered in the Open was Matteo Manassero, the Italian 18-year-old who has already twice won on the European Tour. That is the calibre of prodigy against whom Lewis will be judged. The rounds of 63 and 65 he shot to win his qualifying competition at Rye last week suggests he can nudge the verdict.
Yesterday he played with Ian Poulter and today he hopes to partner Padraig Harrington. Then comes the veteran who almost won at Turnberry two years ago. "This is unreal," said Lewis. But his eyes told a different story. This is very, very real for England's next big thing.
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