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Second season syndrome kicks in as Lewis confronts testing tour

It's all about instant success these days.

Tom Lewis won his third event as a professional when he became Portugal Masters champion
Tom Lewis won his third event as a professional when he became Portugal Masters champion

Switch on the box of a Saturday night and you're bombarded with rank-and-file divas shrieking out a cover version in the hope of fast-tracking themselves into the realms of super stardom. That much sought after X-factor is certainly something Tom Lewis possesses. Last July, the Welwyn Garden City youngster had the golfing media salivating as he barged his way into the spotlight by sharing the first round lead in the Open at Royal St George's before going on to claim the silver medal as the leading amateur.

Three months later, the 21-year-old announced his arrival on the professional stage in quite spectacular style when he won the Portugal Masters in just his third start in the paid ranks. It took Tiger Woods five attempts to claim a maiden title, while Rory McIlroy knocked at the door 38 times before making his breakthrough.

If you'd offered that kind of start in the pro scene to Michael Stewart and James Byrne, the Scottish duo who were GB&I team-mates of Lewis in September's Walker Cup, they would have bitten your hand off. Yet with that instant success comes increased expectation and relentless hype. Lewis may have scaled the heights in double quick time, while his old amateur sparring partners still muddle on in the foothills, but the Englishman now knows how fraught the fame game can be and has plenty of words of encouragement for his fellow rookies as they try to make their mark.

"It's such a fine line between where I am and where they [Michael and James] are," said Lewis, ahead of today's first round of the Sicilian Open at the spectacular Verdura resort. "I was able to take my opportunities, whereas they maybe haven't had them. They are very good players and I'm sure they'll enjoy good careers, but players progress and develop at different rates. I'm sure they'd love to be in my situation, but they're probably learning even quicker than I am at this moment. Doing it their way isn't a bad thing in the long run.

"I knew I was good enough to win but I just didn't know how long it would take. It could've taken four months, or four years. It came early, but in some ways it has its disadvantages. It's a bit of a shock and there's more attention on me. I've essentially come from the Conference straight to the Premier League without learning my trade on the EuroPro Tour or the Challenge Tour. I'm having to learn by playing against some of the best players in the world."

While revelling in the experiences – he made his US PGA Tour debut in the recent Transitions Championship and then played alongside Woods, Ernie Els and a glittering cast in the Tavistock Cup – Lewis, perhaps unsurprisingly, has found it difficult to live up to the lofty standards he set last year. In the eight events since that Portuguese triumph, including that Transitions tournament, Lewis has missed the cut in five and his best result was a 22nd place in January's Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa. It is a steep learning curve, but the former St Andrews Links Trophy winner is ready to face the challenges.

"Because the level out here on the tour is so high, there will be weeks when I'm going to play really well and not even be in contention to win," added Lewis. "It might make me feel like I'm not good enough to compete out here, but that's part and parcel of developing as a golfer.

"Towards the end of the year I was feeling a bit run down and I decided it would be best to regroup and get away from some of the hype. It was always going to be hard to live up to last year. My performances might be a little inconsistent this year, but the more I mature, the better I'll be able to cope with the demands of life as a professional golfer."

Should Lewis require any advice on these demands, then he could do a lot worse than have a chin-wag with Scotsman Raymond Russell.

"I won my fourth event on the European Tour," said Russell, as he reflected on his Cannes Open triumph of 1996. "It proves to yourself that you can do it, but the pressure comes from within. It doesn't matter what anyone else writes or says, it's you who's striving to be the best and making sure you can look in the mirror and say 'I gave it my all'."

Since those heady days, Russell, one of 10 Scots competing this week, has endured the lows that come with illness and injury. Now playing on a medical exemption, having been forced to write off most of last season due to a debilitating virus, Russell is simply happy to be back in rude health and competing again.

"I'm raring to go and I'm playing in everything I can," he added. "I've played in South Africa, India, Colombia and France this year. And I was in Barbados for two weeks practising." It's not a bad life.

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