Tom Lewis makes his professional debut at the Austrian Open today for what will arguably be the most high-profile bow of an English golfer since Justin Rose in 1998. And if the 20-year-old from Welwyn Garden City wants to envisage just how far a boy wonder can rise, he need only look to the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Now 31, Rose is one of the favourites to win the FedEx Cup and a $10m (£6.5m) bonus, which would be the largest cheque received by a British sportsman since Lennox Lewis beat Mike Tyson in 2002. Indeed, if Rose could win the Tour Championship, the climactic event in the PGA Tour's play-off series, he would scoop $11.35m. Not bad for a man who missed his first 21 cuts in the paid ranks.
Rose's victory at last Sunday's BMW Championship in Chicago hurtled him to third in the FedEx Cup, one place above his countryman Luke Donald. And although it's feasible for anyone in the 30-man field to collect the jackpot, only the top five can be sure of doing so if they prevail. The other three – Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar – all happen to be American so there is also national pride at stake for the English duo.
As world No 1, and as the most consistent player on the planet, Donald's chance will be respected. The 33-year-old missed golf's biggest day by a solitary shot last year, when Jim Furyk managed to get up and down from a bunker on the 18th. But Donald is a stronger, more confident performer this time around. "It's never been done before," he pointed out, when asked what it would mean to win both the US and European versions of the Order of Merit. As Donald has the Race to Dubai all but in the bag, this would be huge consolation for remaining majorless – both in terms of finance and prestige.
Rose, however, may just have the edge on the back of his first success in 15 months. He has always been a peaks-and-troughs golfer, as he has proven by clambering his way back into the world's top 30 on four different occasions in a frenetic career. And his purple spell in 2010, when he won twice in three PGA Tour events having fired 161 previous blanks in America, affords him obvious hope.
"Look at last summer," said Rose yesterday. "My game suddenly got hot and I managed to keep it going for a good few weeks. So hopefully I can do more of the same this time around. I spoke last week about having nothing to lose because I hadn't even qualified for this Tour Championship. It's still the same mindset. My thinking is 'just let it ride'."
Rose would give the same advice to Lewis; 5,000 miles away in Atzenbrugg and 13 years apart in experience. Like Rose and his fourth place as an amateur in the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale, Lewis shot into the public eye with his own non-paid heroics in the British major. Lewis's 65 in the first round at Sandwich was the best score by amateur in the 151-year history of the tournament and fired up the hype bandwagon.
"I don't know Tom, but it looks like he can handle the pressure, but there's a big difference between being a very good amateur and being a Tour pro," said Rose, who was happy Lewis decided to play the Walker Cup before signing contracts. "I don't really remember that time – it's a bit of a haze. It may be the same for Tom at the moment when you're caught up in everything. He must just enjoy it."
Lewis may not feel he has the time for any enjoyment. He is determined to earn his Tour card by winning the £210,000 he requires in the seven invites he is allowed before the end of the season. "It's a big ask but I can do it," said Lewis, who will tee off this morning with Paul Cutler, the Irishman who also turned pro after the Walker Cup. "After all, Rory [McIlroy] did it a few years back."Reuse content