Giv­ing him­self an un­ex­pected re­ward

Great week in In­di­ana se­cures PGA Tour card for Lewis

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

Tom Lewis of Eng­land says it was al­ways his dream to play on the PGA Tour.

He just didn’t see it hap­pen­ing like this.

Lewis was in a Mi­ami cof­fee shop Tues­day as he tried to fig­ure out his next move. His coach, David Ar­mitage, is at La Gorce Coun­try Club in Mi­ami Beach. He had a phone call sched­uled with his London-based agent at IMG to de­ter­mine how much time to spend in Europe and in Amer­ica over the next few months.

“It’s a nice prob­lem to have,” Lewis said.

This was one day af­ter Lewis closed with a 7-un­der 65 to cap off a five-shot vic­tory in the Korn Ferry Tour Cham­pi­onship at Vic­to­ria Na­tional.

It was his first trip to In­di­ana. It was his first time com­pet­ing on the Korn Ferry Tour. And it was enough for Lewis to shoot up to No. 2 in the three-tour­na­ment se­ries to earn a PGA Tour card for a new sea­son that starts in nine days.

There were sev­eral mile­stones on the way to PGA Tour mem­ber­ship, and for­give Lewis if he didn’t rec­og­nize the most re­cent and per­haps the most im­por­tant.

Six weeks ago at Royal Portrush, he closed with seven straight pars in se­vere wind and rain for a 1-un­der 70 in the fi­nal round of the Bri­tish Open. He moved up 18 spots into a tie for 11th, his best fin­ish ever in a ma­jor.

Lewis only re­calls dis­ap­point­ment.

The dif­fer­ence of one shot cost him a top-10 fin­ish and an ex­emp­tion into the Bri­tish Open next year at Royal St. Ge­orge’s, a links course that holds spe­cial mean­ing to him. It was in 2011 when Lewis, a 20-year-old am­a­teur, opened with a 65 while play­ing along­side his name­sake, Tom Wat­son, to share the 18-hole lead. It re­mains the low­est open­ing round by an am­a­teur in the Bri­tish Open.

“I was watch­ing my­self go from 29th to 11th,” he said. “I fin­ished 11th, a great re­sult, but a bit of a shame as that would have been nice to go through to next year.”

Only a few weeks later did he learn of an­other op­por­tu­nity.

That tie for 11th car­ried just enough FedEx Cup points for Lewis to fin­ish the equiv­a­lent of No. 196 in the stand­ings. Play­ers from Nos. 126 to 200 are el­i­gi­ble for the Korn Ferry Tour Fi­nals, a se­ries of three events that awards PGA Tour cards to the top 25.

“I never knew what that would bring,” Lewis said. “And then my man­age­ment called me a few weeks ago.”

One of his goals for the year was to fin­ish among the top 30 in the Race to Dubai, so the Euro­pean Tour was his pri­or­ity. Lewis did not think it was ini­tial wise to give up as many as three weeks in Europe. But as he was fin­ish­ing the Czech Mas­ters two weeks ago, he asked if there was a math­e­mat­i­cal chance at a PGA Tour card if he were to play the last Korn Ferry event.

“They said,Y`es,’ and so I said,O`K, let’s go,’ ” Lewis said. “I wasn’t go­ing to play a third straight week in Switzer­land any­way.”

One great week in North­ern Ire­land gave him an op­por­tu­nity that wasn’t even on his mind.

A bet­ter week in In­di­ana gave him a PGA Tour.

The process took longer than six weeks, of course.

Lewis thinks back to the start of 2018, when he spent three months with Ar­mitage in Mi­ami Beach.

He had lost his Euro­pean Tour card the year be­fore and ef­fec­tively had lost his way. The sum­mer af­ter he was low am­a­teur in the Bri­tish Open, he turned pro and won in his third start at the Por­tu­gal Mas­ters.

Just like that, he was billed as the next great player from Eng­land, and it didn’t hurt that he came from the same golf club as Nick Faldo in Wel­wyn Gar­den City.

“I fig­ured I would win every three weeks,” Lewis said with a laugh.

In­stead, he plum­meted to as low as No. 728 in the world rank­ings and was rel­e­gated to the Chal­lenge Tour. That time in Mi­ami proved valu­able.

“I do well when I work hard and prac­tice a lot,” Lewis said. “Being able to come to Mi­ami from Jan­uary un­til March and work every day on my swing, I took a lot of con­fi­dence out of that. I qual­i­fied for both Opens that year and was able to get some con­fi­dence from that.”

It paid off when he won on the Chal­lenge Tour, and then two weeks later won the Por­tu­gal Mas­ters again (seven years apart) to re­gain his card.

An­other mile­stone was the Saudi In­ter­na­tional in Jan­uary, where he fin­ished third be­hind Dustin John­son. That got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and made him el­i­gi­ble for the World Golf Cham­pi­onship in Mex­ico City. His world rank­ing climbed to No. 61, get­ting him into an­other WGC at the Dell Match Play.

The few FedEx Cup points Lewis earned from those WGCs, along with the Bri­tish Open, wound up go­ing a long way.

Where he goes from here re­mains to be seen. Lewis is 48th in the Race to Dubai — the top 50 make it to the sea­son fi­nale in Dubai. If he were locked into Dubai, he says he would play as many as the PGA Tour fall events as pos­si­ble.

He’s in a dif­fer­ent place than the other 24 play­ers who earned cards on Mon­day be­cause Lewis has a choice of two tours. What they have in com­mon, and what Lewis knows from ex­pe­ri­ence, is that get­ting top sta­tus in golf is half the bat­tle.

The hard work is keep­ing it.

CHRIS­TIANA BOTIC/COURIER & PRESS/AP

Tom Lewis of Eng­land earned a five-shot vic­tory in the Korn Ferry Tour Cham­pi­onship last week­end in In­di­ana and, along with it, a PGA Tour card.

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