'I played well and got cheers for "Tom" – though that might be Tom Watson'

Lewis set to rapidly turn professional after shining alongside legend
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The Independent Online

Tom Lewis could well turn professional immediately if his staggering progress continues at this Open Championship. The 20-year-old, who shot a 65 to hold the joint first-round lead, told The Independent that his plans could alter.

In an interview as he prepared for his first major, Lewis revealed that he intends to turn pro the day after the Walker Cup in September. "But all that would change if I won or if I did really well here," he said. IMG, the management giants, have won the race to sign the young Englishman and could be tempted to cash in on the new fame.

That is in the future and for now Lewis simply intends to "keep my head down and concentrate". Lewis, who is dyslexic, will not look at newspapers. "I won't turn the TV on either," he said. Seeing as he will tee-off at 9.30am today and was "having an early night" he should be able to avoid the hype.

Not only did Lewis become the first amateur to lead the Open in 43 years, but he also posted the lowest round ever for an amateur in the Open, beating the 66 posted by Frank Stranahan in 1950 and matched by Tiger Woods in 1996 and Justin Rose in 1998. Little wonder his playing partner, Tom Watson, commented: "I just had to smile inside watching him play." That was how everyone at Sandwich felt.

Lewis looked coolness personified, but later he explained how tense he was. On the first tee, particularly. "I was more nervous not to embarrass myself in front of him," he said. In the event he hit the fairway and from there stunned the world.

It was not a total surprise to Lewis as he won the British Boys' Championship here and has played more links golf this year than anyone else in the field. "It is an advantage," he said. Lewis had told The Independent that he believed he could contend "if I play well". Well, he certainly did yesterday.

Lewis took up the game at four. His father Bryan was a professional who played on the European Tour in the late Eighties. He taught Tom until he was 16, and when he left school was introduced to Pete Cowen. The Yorkshireman, who also coaches Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and, interestingly, Thomas Bjorn, told The Independent: "Tom is the most professional amateur I've ever seen."

It is already written in Open folklore that he was named after Watson. "He's my dad's hero," said Lewis, whose younger brother is called Jack. Bryan did not travel down to Kent as "he was too nervous". "He'll ring tonight and will be thrilled," added Lewis. Instead, he was watched by his mother, Lynda, "and about 30 friends".

His ambition is to win one more major than Sir Nick Faldo and take over the cabinet which sits in the golf club in Welwyn Garden City in tribute to their most famous golfing son. Faldo, of course, won seven majors. "It would be great to go down as the best player from the club," said Lewis, who has only met Faldo a few times. "But I've got a long way to go."

Some might say he's got three days, although perhaps he should not be judged purely on this score. Last month he won the St Andrews Links Trophy on the amateur circuit and last November beat many European Tour regulars at the New South Wales Open before being pipped in a play-off by Peter O'Malley. But yesterday's form put all of that success into the shade, as well as the 63 and 65 he shot at Rye last week to win his qualifying event.

"I played well today, got a lot of cheers for 'Tom', but I think at first it was for Tom Watson, and then towards the end I was playing well so I think they were cheering for me as well," said Lewis. "I was really grateful and I had a great time out there. To play with Tom, no matter what I shot, was going to be excellent."