Commentary

Tom Lewis, 20, shares British Open lead

Updated: July 14, 2011, 5:55 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SANDWICH, England -- He's named after the man he played with during the first round of the Open Championship, and it really doesn't get any better than that.

Except it did.

Tom Lewis, a 20-year-old Englishman, played with Tom Watson, 61-year-old five-time Open champion and legend, which would have been cool enough if the amateur hadn't thrown a 65 at Royal St. George's to tie for the first-round lead.

Then you learn that Lewis' dad, Bryan, a former European Tour pro, idolized Watson, an eight-time major champion, and wanted to name his first son after the golfer.

[+] EnlargeTom Lewis
David Cannon/Getty ImagesTom Lewis, 20, said he was just concerned about getting his first tee shot airborne playing with Tom Watson. Lewis did that and then some, shooting a 65 and tying for the first-round lead at the British Open.

Hence, Tom Lewis.

"And my brother is Jack, so you can imagine who that was after," Tom Lewis said.

Well, of course.

And sister Stacey?

"That's after a model he fancied," said mom and wife Lynda Lewis, who acknowledged that it was apparent that her oldest son had a gift for golf at an early age.

"My husband could tell when he first put a hand on his club," Lynda Lewis said.

Bryan Lewis was apparently too nervous to come to Royal St. George's on Thursday from the family home north of London, but he undoubtedly is beaming at the news that his son is tied for the Open lead with Thomas Bjorn.

His 65 was the lowest score ever shot by an amateur at the Open and helped him become the first amateur to lead the tournament since 1968.

"To play with Tom, no matter what, was going to be excellent," Lewis said. "I was more not wanting to embarrass myself in front of him. To shoot 65 in front of Tom was just excellent, and he was just a great man to play with today."

Lewis is from a town in England called Welwyn and plays out of the same club as six-time major champion Nick Faldo. Last month, he won the St. Andrews Trophy. And in 2009, he won the British Boys Amateur title here at Royal St. George's.

On Thursday, Lewis began his round by one-putting the first eight greens. He made the turn at 3 under, made two bogeys, then birdied the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes to tie Bjorn -- who is 20 years older.

"He was totally unfazed, by good shots and bad shots," said former European Ryder Cup captain Mark James, who is working as an analyst for the BBC. "Totally in control. It's very unusual. He will look back on this day in 10 or 20 years and say how did I do that? It was brilliant. For a 20-year-old amateur, that was a fantastic performance."

It is the first time an amateur has led any round of a major championship since Mike Reid at the 1976 U.S. Open.

"He's quite a refined player at 20," said Watson, who shot 72. "We certainly have a new young breed out here, don't we? We've got the McIlroys and the Ishikawas and the Lewises. We have a lot of young players playing very good golf.

"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."

Lewis has been out of school since age 16 pursuing his passion for golf. He plans to turn pro later this year after the Walker Cup, but for now plays in amateur events and is supported by his parents.

"Our mortgage is massive," said Lynda Lewis, whose husband works as a golf professional at a club. "We work hard. But you do what you do for your kids."

"Golf is my career and that is why I needed to work hard," said Tom Lewis, who disclosed he was dyslexic and was happy to leave school. "Hopefully I can carry on doing what I'm doing because it obviously seems to be working today, and hopefully I can be playing tournaments for years to come."

It is clearly a different path than ones typically taken by American golfers. For example, Patrick Cantlay, 19, the low amateur last month at the U.S. Open, has said he will continue with school at UCLA, where he will be a sophomore. Cantlay went on to shoot 60 at the Travelers Championship and made three straight cuts in PGA Tour events.

After acknowledging the sacrifice his parents have made for him, Lewis was asked about the financial difficulties.

"Hopefully it will pay off long term but at this moment in time, sitting here ... I've got a long way in my career and hopefully I can produce good golf. And if not, then they're still poor," he said, smiling.

Lewis travels the amateur circuit with the English national team, works with noted English coach Pete Cowen -- who is also the instructor to Bjorn, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, among others -- and qualified for the Open by making it through a local 36-hole event at Rye. Last year, he finished 12th at the Australian Open, lost in a playoff at the New South Wales Open and earlier this year made the cut at the Dubai Desert Classic.

"I'm not really surprised, I'm more impressed," said Henrik Stenson, another Cowen student who was the third member of the threesome. "If you look at his game, you could see him putting a score like that together. He has no weaknesses and a good head. He definitely has the game for it."

"I was just thrilled to be here, but to shoot 65 the first round was something I wouldn't have thought," Lewis said. "I was just happy to get the drive off the first tee, and that was all that mattered."

It will be interesting to see how Lewis holds up over the rest of the week. He acknowledged that shooting that kind of score again would be difficult -- "the wind died down for us" -- and that he truly was just focused on making the cut.

But it's hard for anyone to avoid dreaming. After all, Lewis would be the Open's youngest champion in 143 years, going all the way back to Young Tom Morris, who was just 17 in 1868.

That's crazy talk, but then what happened Thursday was not exactly expected, either.

"Shooting 65 is excellent, but to hold off the best players in the world will be even harder," Lewis said.

He did it for one day, and it was impressive.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com