Lehman Breaks The American Jinx
The legendary Bobby Jones had captured the first Lytham Open in 1926 as the most talented and successful amateur golfer of all time. In the intervening years to 1996 no other American had been successful in the championship at Lytham, despite many periods of domination in the game.
That odd quirk in the records was finally laid to rest when Tom Lehman finally squeezed home ahead of fast-finishing duo Mark McCumber and Ernie Els. Lehman had played the American PGA tour for 13 years with only a couple of tournament victories to his name when he arrived at Lytham to take part in his third Open in Britain, having finished 59th at Royal St George’s in 1993 and 24th at Turnberry the following year.
He made his mark right from the start, opening with two rounds of 67, a half-way score matched only by Ireland’s Paul McGinley with 69-65. Then Lehman turned up the heat with a devastating third round of 64 which gave him a six shot lead over the field.
His position appeared unassailable, but the magic of the previous day had vanished with the morning dew and shots began to slip away. Mark McCumber, with a final round of 66 and Ernie Els with 67, set a target of 273 which Lehman was struggling to beat until he once more took command at the tough 12th hole. The angled green is threatened by a circle of six bunkers, with out-of-bounds close on the right. Lehman’s perfectly struck four-iron settled down eight feet from the hole and gave him a much needed birdie.
He later described his final round of 73 as “not pretty, but gritty.” It was enough to keep him two shots ahead of the rest.