'Uncluttered' Watson on hand to guide Lewis through the spotlight

Five-time Open champion steadies British amateur's nerve with timely advice to keep things simple and also finds the time to sink a 15th hole-in-one of his illustrious career
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The Independent Online

It only seemed like a disaster until Tom Lewis, aged 20, walked away from the course where less than 24 hours earlier he had played the round not only of his life but all his dreams.

Then he remembered that he was still one-under in the 140th Open – a score which his new friend Tom Watson, who had just extended by two years his record as the oldest player to beat the cut, believed might be a winning one if it could be preserved until early evening tomorrow.

There were times when Lewis might have buckled much more severely yesterday, when his opening round 65 seemed like outright fantasy. But each time he was drawn from crisis by the presence of the man who once again refused to stay in the margins of the tournament he won five times, along with three other majors, in his brilliant prime.

Yesterday it was by the simple device of holing in one at the 178-yard sixth hole.

It was his 15th career ace – and his second in a major. Part of the inspiration, he surmised, was a morning TV show which re-ran Gene Sarazen's perfect five-iron strike at the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon in 1973.

Watson used a four iron and didn't see it go in until he looked at a screen at the end of his round. "It was a slam dunk – if it had missed the flag, it would have gone 30 feet by. But it was lucky. They're all lucky when they go in. But that's what I was aiming at."

By the sharpest of comparisons, Lewis, the least of whose claims is that he is the best golfing product of Welwyn Garden City since the teenaged Sir Nick Faldo declared his ambition to turn himself into a golf machine, had the worst of fortune when he found a bunker two holes before Watson's triumph – and then missed a six-foot par putt. But then it could have been a lot worse. He might not have had Watson to help put together the broken pieces.

Lewis was in some disarray when Watson gave him the classic advice to all golfers in sudden turmoil. "Unclutter you mind," said the legendary American. Lewis reported his agonising over how best to get himself out of trouble: "I thought the lip was shallower than it really was. So I got a 52 [lob wedge] out and it still hit the lip, so I'm glad I changed to a 52. I hit a great shot into the green and it was a good five in the end."

There might have been worse consequences than a mere bogey when Lewis, who had gone to sleep as the nation's freshest-faced celebrity, pulled his second shot into a post at the edge of the last fairway. The amateur, who was wearing one of the snappiest of major sports designs, fought to control a shaking hand as he moved gravel away from the ball and within the loose impediment rules and a bogey was again a relatively light penalty for another breakdown in his game.

It was soon after that last crisis that Watson pronounced a favourable judgment on the youngster's future. "He's a fine player, he really is. He's got strength, he's got a wonderful putting and pitching touch. He flights the ball very well. He has a very good complement of shots in his bag as a 20-year-old – and that's what you look for."

So can Lewis start targeting the majors soon enough after turning pro later in the year following Walker Cup action? Maybe, agrees Watson, but only if he makes sure not to complicate his life.

Watson added: "That is the most important advice of all, you can get it very complicated by adding a lot of people and a lot of things to your life.

"Keeping it pretty simple is the most important thing. I'm not saying you don't prepare properly, and try to understand everything that is happening on the golf course. But when you clutter your mind up, that's when things go wrong."

For the 61-year-old Watson, who came so close to winning his sixth Open at Turnberry two years ago, there would be an ultimate confusion. It would come if he ever forgot the difference between coming to a great tournament as a serious competitor – and one who was simply riding on the tails of old glory.

Watson said: "Well, I guess I refuse to be a ceremonial player, and when that time comes, I guess I'll hang them up. Right now, I'm still disappointed about the three three-putts I had today. My distance control was not very good and I missed six-to-eight-feet putts, and that's disappointing, because that would have put me at one-under for the tournament rather than two over.

"It's going to be difficult – it's a difficult golf course – but the conditions are going to make it super difficult over the next two days.

"The golf course changes completely with new conditions. It becomes a new golf course and this was a difficulty for Tom Lewis. But he did well to fight through his problems. At a couple of holes, like number four, he hits the ball in a bunker. He hits a beautiful tee ball but it ends up in a bunker. It's one of those things. God, was that bunker really there?

"That's what happens in links golf. You think you've hit a good shot and all of a sudden, you know what, you're dead. And then sometimes you hit a bad shot over a hill and you're saying 'where did that go?' And you know where it went? It went in the hole."

Under the weight of such philosophy, Tom Lewis walked away a less than devastated young man. He said, "Yeah, I had to limit the damage and I felt there could have been loads of it out there. But I was pleased I kept it within limits. Hopefully I can do a little work on it this afternoon."

It meant that he was still alive – with a little bit of help from his new and great friend.