SANDWICH, England — Young Tom and Old Tom striding the links together at the Open Championship. That grand scene hadn’t been witnessed since 1869 when the Morris boys dominated the Open, and son and father finished first and sixth at Prestwick in Scotland.
This year it’s been all about Lewis and Watson for the first two rounds. Old Tom still knows how to charm a British crowd. Still knows how to fashion a bump-and-run and knock a 4-iron under the wind. Five Open championship victories have secured his legendary status here as an honorary Brit. Young Tom had the time of his life shooting 65 in the first round in the company of the man after whom he was named. Could he back it up? Or would Friday prove to be his difficult second album?
Young Tom received a fabulous ovation on the first tee on a balmy blue-sky Kent morning. The grandstand was full and fans lined the fairways and crammed seven-deep behind the green. Everyone wanted to see Lewis, the man of the moment.
The 20-year-old waved to the galleries and looked slightly nervous. The spotlight was now fully turned on him. He was sporting a blue polo shirt with two diagonal stripes across it like a sash. He looked more like a jockey than a golfer, and golf fans were hoping he wouldn’t fall off his horse. He has a look of Luke Donald about him. You know, a baby-faced assassin. He has a beautiful smooth follow-through that makes you forget about the scary slow takeaway. (His swing, not a Sandwich sandwich shop with poor service).
Was Young Tom nervous? Not even a little. He slammed his drive straight down the middle. And then it took a detour via the contours of the mogul ski run that they call a fairway here and veered into the left rough. That’s the tough love of the links at Royal St. George’s. Young Tom then thrashed his ball through the overcooked asparagus to the middle of the green. His reward for the shot and for his record-breaking first round was a standing ovation and a cacophony of applause that sounded like a thousand pans of popcorn boiling over. Two putts, par. No disaster at the first. No hangover after the party.
Old Tom left his birdie putt short. He leaves a lot of putts there these days. While Lewis rams his putts in the hole with the confidence of youth, Watson’s putts don’t so much drop as collapse. On to the second hole. Middle of the fairway, middle of the green for Lewis. Par. Still no disaster. The kid is seriously good. But he’s still a kid. He said on the eve of his round that he knew he would make mistakes. The first one came at the fourth. His ball kicked left and plopped into a cavernous bunker. He changed clubs but still didn’t go at his ball with enough loft. This time the confidence of youth tripped him up. His ball slammed into the front wall of the bunker and popped out onto the grassy bank. He got lucky. It stuck. He escaped with nothing worse than a bogey.
Watson was having his own troubles. He left another putt short at the third and was so short with his drive at the fourth that he was 80 yards behind Young Tom — and in the rough. Turnberry 2009 must have seemed like a long time ago now — never mind Turnberry 1977. But Old Tom was parring along nicely. “There’s still a few tricks in the old dog,” he said early in the week. How about a hole-in-one at the sixth? And a birdie at the seventh? Ah, but he’s still an old dog: three bogeys in a row from the ninth.
Young Tom made his second mistake at the sixth. Perhaps he celebrated Old Tom’s ace rather too much. Perhaps it threw him out of his zone of concentration. He hooked his tee shot into the rough with his worst swing this week: bogey.
Lewis spoiled a hard-fought round with bogeys at the final two holes for a four-over 74. He is still one under for the championship, and the dream is alive. “It would be nice to win the Silver Medal and try to finish top 15,” he said, referring to the award for low amateur. “I felt comfortable today although I was nervous. I’m glad I had yesterday, otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here. Walking down the fairway with Tom on seven, [hearing] his tips on how he’s won and the courses he’s enjoyed, is definitely the highlight of my career.”
Watson posted an even-par 70 and is now two over for the championship, very much in contention for the weekend. “I refuse to be a ceremonial player, until that time comes, then I’ll hang up my spikes,” he said. Spoken like the gutsy links gunslinger that he is. “The winner is going to be around par I think,” he said. “They are not going to be screaming under par with the weather forecast the next two days.”
Lewis and Watson are not going to finish first and second at Royal St. George’s, but each has shown over two days that great golfers can indeed bridge the gap between generations to compete at major championships. The Morris boys would be proud of the new Young and Old Tom.