Tait: Lewis' win shows depth of upcoming talent

Tom Lewis after winning the Portugal Masters.

Tom Lewis after winning the Portugal Masters.

Tom Lewis’ victory at the Portugal Masters confirms a belief I’ve held for several years now: an amateur can win a major championship.

Of course, Lewis is no longer an amateur. But he’s not far from it. He turned professional after last month's Walker Cup, and his trip to Portugal was only his third professional event.

The win gives him a first-place check for €416,660. More importantly, it gives him a two-year European Tour exemption, meaning he can skip Q-School.

The scary thing is, Lewis easily could have won this year’s Open Championship before winning in Portugal. I’ve been convinced that an amateur can win a major for a few years now, especially the Open Championship.

Lewis could have proved that theory correct at this year’s Open if he’d played the last three rounds the way he played the first three. The 20-year-old led the Open Championship along with Thomas Bjorn after the opening round at Royal St. George’s. It wasn’t a surprise to those of us who cover amateur golf.

Lewis isn’t the first amateur to impress in recent years in the Open Championship. Rory McIlroy announced himself to the world with his opening 68 in the first round at Carnoustie in 2007.

Chris Wood finished fifth in the 2008 Open as an amateur. Italy’s Matteo Manassero finished joint 13th a year later at Turnberry.

There are two reasons why an amateur could win the Open Championship in the near future. The first is the professionalism of amateur golf; the second is the amount of links golf elite amateurs play.

Lewis can thank the English Golf Union for helping him win in his third pro event. He has been in the EGU’s training system since he was a boy. He’s been given a steady diet of competitive golf for years now on the EGU’s tab. Not just in the United Kingdom, but around the world.

Youngsters like Lewis have no problems dealing with the European Tour’s international schedule because they’ve already traveled the world as amateurs. They’re comfortable dealing with different currencies, languages and cultures.

As for links golf, the majority of major amateur events in the United Kingdom are held on links courses, so the amateurs have a distinct advantage by the time the Open Championship rolls around. The unpaid players already have spent most of the season playing the bump-and-run game while the professionals are sampling the oldest form of golf for the first time that season.

So Lewis is the new darling of European golf, a man who could go on to add majors to his name. But don’t be surprised if another amateur makes a big splash in next year’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham. And don’t be shocked if a player from the unpaid ranks wins the game’s oldest major in the near future.

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