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Thursday, 19 July 2018
 Phil Mickelson,  Dustin Johnson and Tom Lewis applaud the new Open Champion  (Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Tom Lewis applaud the new Open Champion (Getty Images)

Having come through local qualifying, 27 year old Tom Lewis will tee it up at The Open for the first time as a professional. The former Amateur Champion had a memorable week at this event in 2011 and in this week’s Player Blog, Tom sat down to recount his memories of that week, what it was like and his thoughts ahead of Carnoustie.

I have been thinking about The Open for the last seven years. I haven’t played it since I was the leading amateur in 2011 at Royal St. George’s and that’s why I went to qualify at Prince’s — that part of the world has been good to me. I’ve been close to qualifying at Hillside the last few years but never quite managed to get over the line.  Fortunately I did this time. After bogeying the 10th I knew I had to play well and the putts started to drop. I was aware I was very much in contention but I felt calm and confident. I just tried to focus on each hole and the challenge it presented and not think about The Open. At the end of the day I signed for  a second round 68, the only sub-70 score of the day, and won qualifying by two shots.

All I was thinking was “I’m going to go to Carnoustie.”

I was immensely proud and obviously very excited and I told myself I would just focus on enjoying myself — just like I did in 2011.

Seven years is a long time in golf. Watching The Open on TV each year since 2011 has been tough. Being from England, it’s the biggest golf tournament in the world and there’s nothing I wanted more than to be playing it each year. The feeling of playing a Major in front of home crowds, with the support you get in the UK, is something I can’t describe. I had it in 2011 and I’m sure it’ll be the same this week.

“2011”

My week at The Open in  2011 is a little bit of a blur to be honest.

I was 20 years old and a full-time amateur golfer. I had won the month before at the Old Course in the St Andrews Links Trophy and although it was my first Major and my first Open Championship, I was confident and excited. Clearly the scale of the event and the attention I was getting was different to anything I was used to, but the course and the game was the same and I felt surprisingly in control heading into Thursday.

I remember seeing the draw for the first time. It was released at the start of the week when we arrived and I was grouped with Tom Watson and Henrik Stenson. Welcome to the Open!

“Tom

Luckily I had played a practice round with Henrik earlier in the year in Dubai and got to know him a little then. He had given me some advice and I had some time to pick his brains and get to know him a little. That definitely helped and it was a pretty perfect group for me to get paired with him and Tom.

I remember telling my dad that I was going to be playing with Mr. Watson, he’s my father’s hero in the game, and he couldn’t believe it. I think he was more excited than I was. Tom was actually the inspiration for my name when I was born so it was a pretty cool moment for both my dad and I.

Mr. Watson couldn’t have been friendlier to play with. He has such a respect for the game, The Open and the fans and it was clear to see. He was very polite and said some nice things to me on the first tee on Thursday and throughout those two days.

“Leaderboard”

I shot a five-under 65 on Thursday and was tied for the lead. Someone told me afterwards that it was the lowest round by an amateur ever at The Open. It was amazing and it surprised a lot of people, but to be honest, it was what I had been doing regularly in events that summer. Clearly, The Open was a whole different caliber of event, but it was the same game and I was happy that I had managed my emotions and my game.

I can still vividly remember sitting in the scoring office after the round next to Mr. Watson. Having checked my scorecard about ten times I put it in and was getting ready to leave when Tom spoke to me and gave me some advice on what I should do that evening. He knew what would be going through my head and the attention I would get and he just told me a few things that really helped calm me down.

I struggled a little bit on Friday but felt fine. I just missed a couple of tee shots and it’s so easy at The Open to drop shots when you miss the fairway. I shot 74 but was still under par  and inside the top 15. I had made the cut at The Open, aged 20, and it was a great feeling.

It was during that second round that I experienced one of the coolest moments I’ve ever had on a golf course. On the sixth hole, Mr. Watson made a hole in one. He hit this perfect, crisp six iron that bounced once and then vanished into the hole. The cheer was one you only get at The Open. It was a sort of laugh, cheer and prolonged ovation reserved for the best players in the game. It was a special moment and for me was one of the highlights of what was an amazing week.

Standing on the 18th green at the end of the week next to Darren Clarke, receiving the Silver Medal for low amateur, was a special, special moment in my career and I still have the photo from that moment up in my house. I didn’t need any motivation to turn pro, but after that week I knew I was ready. I played in the Walker Cup a couple of months later but turned pro immediately after that.

I was so keen to prove myself as a pro. Perhaps too keen.

I think everyone is always trying to improve. In hindsight, I think I tried too hard. When I think back to 2011 and my amateur career, turning professional after the Walker Cup, I ended up working on my game so much that I got to a point where I didn’t enjoy it. It had become work and a grind and I had lost the joy and fun I had playing the game as kid growing up.

 Tom Lewis at the 147th Open Championship The challenge I found difficult playing in Europe was the fact that we play for money, not points. I got far too focused on how much I needed to earn to get to a certain world ranking or what finish I needed to move up the money list. That probably took my focus away from what I should have been working on. Looking back on what I know now, I should’ve been focusing on myself, my game and the individual areas to improve but in truth I focused on the wrong things. By chasing the wrong goal I lost my game and my confidence.

Golf is certainly more enjoyable now than it has been. I understand now what it means. I feel that this is just the start of better things to come. It’s nice not to have the hype and noise around me and allows me to focus a little more. Even though I’m ranked lower than I’ve been in the past, I’m enjoying it more than  ever. When I’m enjoying it, good things will happen. Whether that happens at The Open this week or whether it happens later in the year - I’m confident I’ll get there at some point.

You can follow Tom on Instagram.

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T2KISNER, KevinUSA18-6
T2SCHAUFFELE, XanderUSA18-6
T6PEPPERELL, EddieENG18-5

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