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A Day for 'Young Tom'

Tom Lewis
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BETHLEHEM, PA - JULY 09: Amateur Alexis Thompson reacts to missing a putt during the first round of the 2009 U.S. Women's Open at Saucon Valley Country Club on July 9, 2009 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)  - 

SANDWICH, England – Tom Watson shot 72 Thursday at the Open Championship and only wanted to talk about one thing.

Tom Lewis, how about that,” the five-time Open champion said with conviction. “He could be my grandson.”

Yes, he could. And he’s also leading the Open Championship.

Lewis, 20, shocked all of Royal St. George’s late Thursday when, as an English amateur, he birdied four of the last five holes to shoot 5-under 65 and tie Thomas Bjorn for the first-round lead. The last amateur to lead this championship was Michael Bonallack, who shared the opening-round lead with Brian Barnes in 1968 at Carnoustie.

To top it all off, and make the day perfect for the Team Lewis, Tom played alongside Watson, whom he is named after. Bryan Lewis, a former European Tour professional, idolized Watson and insisted wife Lynda name their first son Tom. To keep the golf theme well embedded in the family they named their second boy Jack.

Their daughter’s name?

“Stacey,” Lynda Lewis said. “Named after a model my husband fancied.”

All of England fancied Young Tom Lewis here at the Open, a place that has launched the careers of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Chris Wood and Matteo Manassero, all of whom were amateurs when they first made noise.

This year, it’s Lewis. He was so nervous to play with Watson that he introduced himself on the practice range earlier in the week. Lewis didn’t want the stress of dealing with such pleasantries Thursday on the first tee. In fact, Bryan Lewis was so nervous for his son that he stayed home and watched television coverage. He couldn’t bear to walk alongside his child and his childhood idol.

“I think he’s even more nervous now,” Tom Lewis quipped.

Young Tom was a cool cucumber during Round 1. He one-putted the first eight holes and made three birdies to get to 3 under. But bogeys on Nos. 11 and 13 pushed him back to 1 under and seemingly out of the picture. Then Lewis came blazing back with four consecutive birdies on 14-17 and closed by converting a 5-footer for par on the final hole for 65. Lewis’ only misstep of the day came on that same 18th hole when he “was in the zone” so much that he walked up to the green quickly and realized later that he should’ve waited for Watson to walk up with him.

“He’s quite a refined player at age 20,” Watson said. “I just had to smile inside to watch him play. I didn’t play particularly well myself, but I certainly was impressed by the way he played.”

The journey to get here was quite long, even for such a young man. Lewis was dyslexic and quit school as a 16-year-old to focus solely on improving his golf skills. His mother wasn’t concerned because she knew her son could always go back to school if life on the links didn’t pan out. But Tom Lewis has progressed so much during the past four years that professional golf is the only job he’ll likely ever have. He plans on turning professional after the Walker Cup later this summer.

Lewis earned his spot in this tournament by winning the Local Final Qualifying event at nearby Rye. When he realized he was in the Open Championship he was ecstatic for two reasons – he was familiar with Royal St. George’s because he won the British Boys here two years ago and he knew he’d have an advantage over most of his competitors here because he plays most of his competitive golf on links layouts.

“I’ve only played one this year that’s not been on links,” he said.

It’s early, but Lewis is in position to do something special here over the next three days. His original goal was just to make the cut and capture the Silver Medal that is awarded to the low amateur. Now, he has his eyes set on a prize much more prestigious, the claret jug.

“I’m sure I’m not going to shoot four 65s,” Lewis said. “I’m going to have tough moments. As long as I limit my mistakes and shoot 70 or below, then I’ll be more than happy.”

No matter what happens from here forward, Lewis never will forget Thursday at Royal St. George’s.

“To shoot 65 in front of Tom was just excellent,” Lewis said of playing with Watson. “He was just a great man to play with today.”

And all that great man could talk about afterward was playing with a great young star who shared the same name.