Amateur Tom Lewis shines while playing alongside childhood hero

Tom Lewis with Tom Watson
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Tom Lewis, 20, fired the lowest round by an amateur in Open Championship history on Thursday -- a 5-under 65 for a share of the first-round lead with Thomas Bjorn. Making it all the more special, Lewis played alongside Tom Watson -- the man he was named after.

Series: News Feature

Published: Thursday, July 14, 2011 | 4:06 p.m.

Tom Lewis lives in Welwyn Garden City, the hometown of Sir Nick Faldo, three-time Open champion, and was named after Tom Watson, the five-time Open winner.

Pretty good omens and his golf is pretty good, too. Late on Thursday evening, the grandstands at the 18th of Royal St George's rose to acclaim the sparkling performance of a 20-year-old amateur.

2011 BRITISH OPEN

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They were also standing for Watson himself but the great man had hung back to allow Lewis his moment. A chip and a putt later and Lewis had a par to follow four birdies in a row from the 14th. It was a charge of brilliant golf and no little history as he became the first amateur to lead at the end of a round in the Open since Sir Michael Bonallack shared the first round lead with Brian Barnes at Carnoustie.

Lewis's 5-under 65 matched Thomas Bjorn's lead from the start of a long opening day at the 140th Open. Watson had a 72 as did Henrik Stenson, the third member of the group.

So it turned out the announcement of the draw on Monday was far from the highlight of Lewis's week.

"When the draw came out on Monday I think Dad was more excited and more nervous than I was," Lewis said of being paired with Watson. "He was always my father's favorite golfer."

Incidentally, Lewis's younger brother is named Jack. Watch out for him at the Masters.

"He's a seven-handicap," Tom said. May not order up the green jacket, then.

Lewis has been in supreme form on the links this summer. He won the St. Andrews Links Trophy and qualified for the Open at Rye with scores of 63 and 65. Two years ago he won the British Boys Championship here at Sandwich. That tournament also featured Matteo Manassero, then the reigning Amateur champion who had just become the low amateur in the 2009 Open.

Manassero, then 16, had the honor of playing with Watson for the first two rounds at Turnberry and Lewis was equally honored here.

"We did not speak much but he helped me out at times," Lewis said. "It was thrilling to be in his presence today. You could not play with a more generous man. He said some nice things in the recorders hut.

"All I wanted was to get the first tee shot away. I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of Tom Watson. To shoot a 65 in front of him is amazing."

Of the reception at the last, Lewis said: "I wasn't sure if it was for me, Tom, or for the other Tom."

Watson said: "I had to have a smile inside seeing him play."

"It is only one day," Lewis said. "I'm going to have to do three more of these to really impress."

Lewis is well regarded as an amateur and only lost the New South Wales Open on the Australasian tour at the end of last year in a playoff to veteran Peter O'Malley. He is due to turn professional after the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen in September.

The wind had dropped in the afternoon but you still have to take advantage and Lewis did with three birdies on the front nine. In fact, he one-putted the first eight greens. Two bogeys early on the back nine suggested he might fade away but not a bit of it. He reached the front of the 14th green in two and two-putted for a birdie-four and went three, two, three at the following holes. Suddenly his name was next to Bjorn's at the top of the leaderboard.

"I saw that but I didn't even realize that I had just had four birdies in a row," he said. "I was in the zone, I guess."

Lewis had over 30 friends and family supporting him. His father Brian, a former tour professional, was not among them.

"He was too nervous but hopefully he has been watching on television." Was he going to come Friday? "No, he'll probably be even more nervous now."

However, Lewis, who left school at 16 to concentrate on golf and has dyslexia, was as focused as a leading professional that he may one day become.

"There are going to be tough moments ahead. To hold off the top players is going to be even tougher."