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Dublin: 2 °C Wednesday 16 January, 2019
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In the swing: Weekend glory is only the beginning for Lewis

Ambitious and talented, Tom Lewis could be the next young golfer to make a big splash, writes Neil Cullen in this week’s column.

Tom Lewis kisses his trophy after winning the Portugal Masters on Sunday.
Tom Lewis kisses his trophy after winning the Portugal Masters on Sunday.
Image: Francisco Seco/AP/Press Association Images

THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP Silver Medal, awarded to the highest finishing amateur who makes the half-way cut at the Open Championship, has a tendency to be won by golfers who go on to make it pretty big.

If we take the last 15 years, winners include Tiger Woods (’96), Justin Rose (’98), Rory McIlroy (’07), and Matteo Manassero (’09).

Okay, four out of 15 probably isn’t a great return for all you statisticians out there, but it often happens that no amateur makes the cut and therefore the medal is not awarded, so it’s not as bad as it may seem.

Either way, you can probably now add Tom Lewis to that list and make it five out of 15. Lewis, you may remember, took home the Silver Medal this year at Royal St George’s.

I’ll forgive you if that particular moment has been overshadowed in your memory by Darren Clarke’s amazing victory. But Lewis’ performance that week was a pretty big story, not only because he was an amateur who did very well, but also because he played alongside the great Tom Watson for the first two rounds and Watson’s group tends to get a lot of camera action during the British Open.

Progress

His performance at the British Open may have been a giant leap forward in his career, but he’s made a few more pretty big steps since then, the biggest and most recent being at the Portugal Masters this weekend where he won his first European Tour event in only his third start as a professional.

To put that in context, Tiger Woods took five tournaments to win his first professional event and Rory McIlroy took 38. No pressure then.

The manner of his victory was equally impressive. A closing round of seven under par speaks for itself, but four birdies in the last five holes also shows that he can perform when in contention and under pressure.

Speaking after the round he said “I’ve not thought about the money – I was thinking about winning.”

I’ve got a long way to go. I’m nowhere near the player I want to be, so I’ll put this win behind me at the end of the year and start fresh next year.

Very mature words from a 20-year-old. Testament to his belief in his own ability and a reflection of his ambition.

Bagman

While he must have taken great pleasure and delight in his maiden victory, it’s quite obvious that his ambition stretches far beyond the Portugal Masters, no disrespect to that tournament.

The win is hugely important in setting himself up and giving him some security over the next two years. Instead of facing the daunting task of getting through Q School before the end of the year, Tom can begin to plan for the next two years as his win gives him a two-year exemption, a much coveted safety net for those trying to establish themselves on the professional circuit.

A word also for his caddie, Irishman Colin Byrne, with whom many of you will be familiar from his column in the Irish Times. As Lewis says himself, “to have his experience is excellent.”

Don’t forget that Byrne has been a part of Major Championship victories with Retief Goosen. A man of his experience knows a good bag when he sees one and was even tipped by some to get Tiger Woods’ bag before Joe LaCava took over.

As this weekend proved, Byrne is already on a winner, but it also says a lot about Lewis’ ambition that he wanted a bagman of such experience and reputation on his side. He’s still only 20 years of age and dipping his toe into life on the European Tour, but that dip so far has been warm and inviting, and it may not be long before he makes a big splash.

Read more of Neil Cullen’s weekly golf columns here

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