2011 medal winner sounds note of caution for lone Scot Sam Locke

Sam Locke acknowledges applause for a birdie on the 13th today.  Photograph: Ian Rutherford
Sam Locke acknowledges applause for a birdie on the 13th today. Photograph: Ian Rutherford
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Tom Lewis had some stark advice for playing partner Sam Locke yesterday. The young Scot would be recommended to listen since it’s wisdom acquired from bitter experience down the years. It’s also very relevant.

“Don’t do what I did!” Lewis replied when he was asked if he could offer any advice to Locke, who is guaranteed to be participating in tonight’s winners’ ceremony on account of being the only amateur player left in the tournament. Lewis is himself a former Silver Medal winner. Fate brought the pair together in the third round at Carnoustie yesterday.

It was opportune as far as Locke is concerned. Lewis, now 27, is someone who knows what it’s like to be in the young Scot’s shoes, having finished leading amateur at Royal St George’s in 2011.

He then suffered as his career failed to ignite as planned. This year’s Open is the first time he’s competed in the tournament since. Lewis earned one of the last available spots via final qualifying. He’s enjoying himself again. A 
three-under par 68 put him at level par for the tournament. Locke, meanwhile, shot a very creditable one-under par 70, including six birdies. It left him two over for the tournament. He birdied the last hole for the second time in three days to ensure a rousing ovation from the galleries.

As the only Scot left, he was guaranteed a warm response in any case. The failings of his compatriots had most to do with him being the sole Scot left in the competition. Nevertheless, Locke still had to do what the world No. 1 and world No. 2 could not; survive the cut. What an achievement to have also outperformed Scottish professionals such as Russell Knox and Scott Jamieson and then keep his nerve yesterday while so firmly in the spotlight.

Lewis wished him well but sounded some notes of caution. “I think it’s different now from when I turned pro,” he reflected. “I think the fields are stronger. I think you’ve just got to carry on doing what you’re doing. Don’t try and improve too quickly. Don’t try and listen to too many people. If he sticks to doing what he’s doing, he’s obviously going to turn into a good player.”

Lewis learned the hard way. Following his Royal St George’s success he acquired a high profile coach in Pete Cowen and signed with management giants IMG. And then, well, not a lot.

“It’s hard,” reflected Lewis. “Everyone’s against you. Many want to see you do well, but there’s a lot of people who don’t. They like seeing people struggle. You listen to the news nowadays. Normally it’s just negative news because it’s interesting. I try to stay away from it because I know how it can affect your mind.”

Aged only 19, and having just experienced the thrill of making the cut in his first major, such a gloomy tale isn’t what Locke will want to hear right now, understandably so.

He’s on the crest of a wave. He should be allowed to enjoy the moment. He savoured the feeling of learning he had made the cut on Friday evening.

“I was on the sofa watching TV,” the Stonehaven teenager said. “My mum and dad were there as well. It was nice.”

He was also required to digest the news he had claimed the Silver Medal with two rounds to spare to emulate Rory McIlroy, who won it here in 2007. “It’s obviously a good feeling to know that I’m in the company of one of my idols,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep kicking on and working hard and try and push up that leaderboard tomorrow.”

It was heartening to hear him refuse to rest on his laurels. There was surely a temptation to coast these last two rounds and simply savour the atmosphere having achieved his main goal of finishing leading amateur.

“I want to try and get as far up that leaderboard as I can, and I don’t want to just: ‘oh, that’s it, I’ve got it now’,” he said.

Locke looked very much in the zone yesterday. He began his round as he would end it, with a birdie. A double bogey at the infamous sixth, when he hit his tee shot out of bounds, did not faze him. “Keep your head Sam!” was a shout from the crowd after a bogey at 14.

It was cheering to see Locke, a graduate of the Paul Lawrie foundation, respond so positively to the support from the galleries. It was additionally pleasing to watch Lewis perform strongly as he seeks to negotiate a way back after losing his main tour card in 2015. “The crowds were all on his (Locke’s) side, but they were very friendly with me (too),” Lewis said.