Tom Lewis’ win in the Portugal Masters was right on cue. Not just for himself but for the R&A who have chosen this week to unveil their changes to the Rules of Golf for 2012.
On a personal level, the victory has enabled Lewis to bypass the Qualifying School. Though most would have backed him to sail through that six-round examination, Lewis seriously believes that he would have had no chance of winning his European Tour card that way.
“What I had done,” he explains, “is to put myself under pressure to get my card without having to go to the school. If I had failed, I would have seen myself as a failure and the chances are that I would have made a hash of the school week. I can’t tell you how much I was dreading it.”
Where the R&A are concerned, the 20-year-old Lewis has provided that body with precisely the kind of colourful case study they need to light up their announcements.
“Tom,” said David Rickman, the R&A’s director of Rules and Equipment Standards, “is the most recent illustration of someone who would have benefited from the changes to the rules of amateur status. Yes, they are too late for him but the next Tom will be able to enjoy a more orderly progression from the amateur game to the professional. It is time that the regulations helped with the process.”
In brief, the new wording will give a player who is not benefiting from “free this and free that” on a college golf scholarship, to get “broader support” from his or her governing body. In return, the player could be asked to sign a contract with the governing body in question. He might, for example, promise to stay as an amateur until after the next Walker Cup. Or agree to give up a day a year to helping the next batch of up-and-coming youngsters.
Also under the new regulations, a player who has reached the age of 18 will be allowed to sign on with a management company 12 months ahead of turning professional, though any such arrangement could only pertain to his professional future.
When Lewis had that opening 65 to share the first-round lead with Thomas Björn in this year’s Open, there were rumours that he might depart the amateur ranks at the end of the championship and bypass the Walker Cup. His parents were running up a mass of golf-related bills and Pete Cowen, who was helping Bryan Lewis with the coaching of his son, was just one to note that it would make good financial sense to strike while the player’s irons were hot.
The R&A, meantime, advised Lewis to stay back for the match and, last week, Lewis said he was glad he had taken their words to heart. Disappointed though he was not to win either of his singles at Royal Aberdeen, he said that nothing could have taken away from the euphoria of sharing in a GB&I victory.
While he has always gone with a policy of keeping a little apart from the rest – this is by way of making it easier to stay competitive – he had found himself revelling in the team situation.
“The guys were all great,” he says. “The week will always be a highlight because of them and I can’t wait until they join me on Tour. Hopefully, what I did in Portugal will have shown them that they, too, can get off to a fast start.”
Now that he is in a position to pay off the family debts, Lewis is not going to waste too much time ruing the fact that the R&A’s new regulations are no use to him. Rather does he give them his seal of approval: “There was a barrier between the amateur and the professional ranks and the R&A are definitely doing the right thing. They’re making it much easier for the players.”
Lewis, for one, never enjoyed the cloak and dagger nature of his discussions with the various management men during his amateur days, even if “talking” was permitted. He would far sooner have had his professional arrangements with IMG signed and sealed long ago because that is the way he operates. He is not – and never has been – a last-minute man.
From the time he was 4 years old, he and his father worked tirelessly towards the professional career which was the only thing he ever wanted. Where the pair had a head start was in Bryan’s golfing upbringing alongside Nick Faldo at Welwyn Garden City. Bryan knew what to pass on and he knew what to avoid.
By way of a couple of examples, Tom has picked up on Faldo’s extraordinary on-course focus whilst simultaneously eschewing the great man’s tendency to treat people as hazards that are best avoided.
Lewis gives a wry smile when he says that his ambition is to be the best player in his club. For years, he has stared at the Faldo-specific honours’ board at Welwyn Garden City, a board which details everything the six-times major winner has ever won and done.
According to the club secretary, Tom’s own board is only a committee meeting away.