Rising British star set to make U.S. pro debut

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PALM HARBOR, Fla. — His achievements alone would suggest Tom Lewis is racing toward stardom.

The 21-year-old from England burst onto the world scene last summer at Royal St. George’s when he ran off four consecutive birdies late in the opening round for 65. It was the lowest score ever by an amateur in the British Open, and he was the first amateur in 43 years to be atop the leaderboard in golf’s oldest championship.

If that wasn’t enough, he won in his third tournament as a pro with 65 on the last day at the Portugal Masters. Tiger Woods didn’t win until his fifth tournament. Rory McIlroy waited until his 38th start to win.

But for a kid with no other aspirations but to play golf for a living, Lewis sees himself as someone with much to learn. Another step comes this week at the Transitions Championship, where Lewis makes his PGA Tour debut, his first time playing in America as a pro.

“I know I’ve got two years in Europe. That helps,” Lewis said, referring to the two-year exemption on the European Tour for winning. “It gives me the opportunity to come here and see what standard I need to get to.”

There are so many examples of players wasting little time to get to where they want to be.

McIlroy two weeks ago rose to No. 1
in the world at 22. Harris English, a former University of Georgia standout, last year won a Nationwide Tour event while still an amateur. Bud Cauley became only the sixth player to go straight from college to the PGA Tour without a trip to Q-school.

The tee times for Innisbrook offer a bizarre indicator of youth: Cauley is about to turn 22, and he’ll be the oldest player in his group. He’ll play with Lewis and 20-year-old Ryo Ishikawa.

“Golf is getting so competitive at an earlier age,” Cauley said.

Justin Rose was one of those guys. He tied for fourth in the 1998 British Open as a 17-year-old at Royal Birkdale, turned pro the following week and spent the next year missing cuts. He finally figured it out and won a World Golf Championship last week at Doral, his 10th win worldwide.

“He seems to be in no hurry,” Rose said of Lewis. “I thought it was incredibly long-sighted. I see a lot of kids, me included, who come out and think it’s so important to have your tour card immediately, get into the top 50 in the world, get into the Masters, get into the majors. That will all happen in time, and I think you need to focus on development of your game. I think that’s what he’s done really smartly.”

Lewis is not eligible for the Masters Tournament – only a win at Innisbrook would get him to Augusta National.

“If I can get to the standard I want to,” he said, “I’ll be there in time.”


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