It can’t get much better than that, right?
With the five-time Open champion watching every swing, Lewis became the first amateur in 35 years to lead a round at a major. The 20-year-old settled his nerves with one up-and-down after another on the front side Thursday, then ripped off four straight birdies down the stretch to match Thomas Bjorn with a 5-under 65.
When Lewis stepped to the first tee at Royal St. George’s, his main concern was not to embarrass himself in front of Watson. By the end, Watson was marveling at how much poise the youngster showed in his first major championship.
He’s the first amateur to lead the Open since 1968, the first to lead any major since Mike Reid at the U.S. Open in 1976.
“We certainly have a new young breed out here, don’t we?” marveled Watson, who needed seven more shots than Lewis to get around the course. “I just had to smile inside watching him play. I didn’t play particularly well myself, but I certainly was impressed by the way he played.”
Watson has been through this before. Two years ago, he was paired at the Open with Italy’s Matteo Manassero, who tied for 13th at Turnberry as a 16-year-old amateur (a feat that was overshadowed, of course, by Watson nearly becoming the oldest major champion in history).
Now, along comes Lewis, who dropped out of school when he was 16 to concentrate on a full-time golf career. Clearly, he has big plans for the future, even though he won’t officially turn pro until September after the Walker Cup.
He’s ready to take on Rory McIlroy, only two years older but already a major champion. He’d like to surpass Nick Faldo, who hails from the same town north of London and captured six of golf’s biggest events.
“I would love to win seven because I’m from the same golf club as him and it would be great to go down as the best player from the club,” Lewis said, before hastening to add, “but I’ve got a long way to go.”
He’s already knocked Tiger Woods from the record book. The 14-time major champion was one of three players who held the British Open scoring record for amateurs with a 66.
Lewis was clearly destined for this path. His father, Brian Lewis, played a few years on the European Tour and always considered Watson his favorite player. When Lewis had a son, there was little doubt he would be named for the five-time Open champion.
(And when the Lewis’ had another son, he was named Jack, as in Nicklaus.)