British Open: Amateur hangs with golf’s Goliaths
SANDWICH, England ó Even if only partly believable, the Tom Lewis story is a dreamy one: valiant amateur who still lives at home with his parents (mum says he always keeps his room impeccably tidy) upstaging the gnarly, mega-rich Goliaths of golf at the sportís oldest major.
All the 20-year-old Englishman needed to complete what seemed like a sepia-tinted throwback to golfís pre-commercial days was a thick tweed suit and a tobacco pipe. Spiffing fun, old chap, wot?
From the outside, Lewisí unexpected flirtation with the top of the British Open leaderboard seemed like a victory for golfís little guys, one of those what-if-he-actually-wins-it? scenarios that sets the imagination racing with crazy ideas that, with a dose of luck and a few days off work from a friendly boss, perhaps other talented amateurs could set an Open alight, too, if given the chance.
But the picture starts to break down in that Lewis is an amateur in name only.
To abide by golfís detailed rules on amateur status, Lewis is careful to stress that he isnít paid (not yet, at least) to wear his shirt and cap emblazoned with the names of two well-known golf and menís apparel companies.
He says that, contrary to media reports, he hasnít signed with sports management giant IMG.
Because he is not allowed to profit financially from his golf, Lewis wonít get the winnerís check of $1.45 million if his name is engraved Sunday on the claret jug.
But he travels the world to compete (Australian Open in December; Dubai Desert Classic in February) and spends much of his time improving his golf. His dad, Bryan, an ex-European Tour player now working as a golf pro at a driving range north of London, introduced him to the game when he was just a few years old (2 or 3, says his mother, Lynda, she cannot remember exactly). Echoes there of Rory McIlroy, whose dad is a scratch golfer and took the future U.S. Open champion with him to the course before he could even walk.
Lewisí father named him after Tom Watson and Jack, his younger brother, after Nicklaus. Their daughter, Stacey, didnít get a golf name. Curiously, Lewisí girlfriend, Lara, is named after Julie Christieís character in the David Lean classic ěDoctor Zhivago.î
Lewis left school at 16. Now, he looks forward to the day when he is able to repay the money his parents poured into his game (Lynda says theyíre ěmortgaged massiveî). Lewis suggests he could turn pro after the Walker Cup in September.
In short, the bag-load of skills and cool head Lewis has sprung on Royal St. Georgeís shouldnít be seen as big a shock as it would be if the tiny Faeroe Islands beat five-time world champions Brazil in soccer (it will never happen).
Instead, his story is best understood as another illuminating example of how increasingly younger players arriving with ever-more impressive levels of play beyond their tender years are challenging golfís established order.
ěThe state of amateur golf now, the really good ones, theyíre not amateurs in the sense of when I was an amateur,î said second-ranked Lee Westwood.
Unlike tennis, jolted by the burnouts of Jennifer Capriati and others, golf hasnít felt a need, not yet, at least, for soul-searching about whether youngsters are being pushed too hard to succeed. Instead, the rise of young pros like the 22-year-old McIlroy and Matteo Manassero, who tied for 13th at the 2009 Open as a 16-year-old amateur, is celebrated, especially with No. 1 attraction Tiger Woods increasingly out of the picture.