Tom Lewis fights for chance to repeat Open heroics
Cast your minds back 12 months. Golf was in a lather at the achievements of Rory McIlroy and wondering if Tom Watson might reprise the wonders of Turnberry when he pitched up at Royal St George's. McIlroy did not feature at all in the Open drama. Watson did by virtue of playing alongside an amateur by the name of Tom Lewis.
The kid from Nick Faldo's old club in Welwyn Garden City opened with a 65, the lowest score by an amateur in the history of the Open, to share the lead in the tournament. That he was named after his playing partner, the boyhood hero of Lewis's father, added a poignant detail to an already rich storyline. Lewis could not quite match the excellence of the first day but made the weekend's action and took the silver medal for best placed amateur.
Twelve months on, the 21-year-old boy is in the process of becoming a golfing man, and struggling. He missed out at the Open qualifier at Sunningdale a fortnight ago and needs a top-five finish at the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart to claim a tee time at Royal Lytham next week. The prognosis is not good. Lewis has missed five of his last six cuts, but after a visit to the Las Vegas temple of "super coach" Butch Harmon, who shaped the early professional career of Tiger Woods and now looks after Phil Mickelson, he believes the secret to sustained happiness might not be far away.
Harmon identified Lewis's overly active swing as the root cause and strapped a sling-like device to his right arm to encourage him to shorten the backswing to promote greater control. "Before I used my hands a lot and I was convincing myself I was hitting it well, whereas I was actually timing it well," Lewis said. "All my life I haven't been very consistent. I haven't been able to have four good rounds. It's always difficult to know but, hopefully, the stuff I'm working on will make me more consistent through the rest of my career.
"He's a clever man. What he saw has been happening for a long time, but it's just little tweaks to my swing. Simple stuff, not complicated. Hopefully, my confidence will come back with it. I've been quite good at learning and changing stuff in the past and I don't feel it will take me long before I see some big improvements. Once I shoot one low round I feel I'll be in the zone again. I'm a bit distant from where I was, but I think this knock-back has been good for me."
Lewis would arguably have benefited from a spell under the radar after the Open exposure but that was never likely. In his final event as an amateur Lewis led from the front at Royal Aberdeen to help Great Britain and Ireland to Walker Cup glory in September and a month later, three tournaments into his professional career, he earned his first win on tour with a magnificent back-nine at the Portugal Masters. This was an achievement even beyond the likes of McIlroy.
Unfortunately for Lewis, the Scottish Open's shift to a links setting near Inverness has encouraged the big dogs to turn up and sharpen their teeth for the challenge at Lytham. The world No 1 Luke Donald defends his title against the likes of Mickelson (four majors), Padraig Harrington (three majors), Ernie Els (three majors) plus Louis Oosthuizen (2010 Open champion) and Paul Lawrie (1999 Open champion) playing the golf of his life.
"It's asking a lot," Lewis said. "But we'll see."