Twenty-three years after lifting the Claret Jug, Tom Lehman enjoyed one final stroll up the 18th hole Friday at Royal Portrush.
By Will Gray
With the large grandstands lining the 18th green ready to greet the first tee time of the day, Tom Lehman stopped to soak in one last moment in The Open spotlight.
Lehman lifted the Claret Jug in 1996 at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's, the highlight of a career that also saw him top the Official World Golf Rankings. Having turned 60 in April, he knew that Portrush would be the final Open for which he qualified automatically from that win under an age provision that has led to recent farewells from fellow Champion Golfers of the Year Mark O'Meara (2017) and Sandy Lyle (2018).
This time it was Lehman's turn for a swan song, and the emotions were evident as he wiped a tear from his eye after finding the green with his final approach.
Lehman won't be around for the weekend in Portrush after rounds of 78-76, but his score didn't damper a special moment as he received one final 18th hole ovation.
"There was emotion for sure," Lehman said. "You don't really know how you're going to react to the last thing of something, and this one was very sweet and joyful. Tears of joy."
Lehman made his 24th career Open appearance this week, having also tied for fourth in 2000 at St. Andrews following his 1996 triumph. He ceded that there was still the potential to qualify for a future Open by winning a Senior Open title, but largely accepted the fact that these were likely his final swings and moments in a championship he dearly loves.
“You don't really know how you're going to react to the last thing of something, and this one was very sweet and joyful. ” tom lehman
Lehman's memories from this week were sweetened by the presence of his son, who served as his caddie and with whom he walked arm in arm up the final fairway to cap an Open career that dates back to 1993.
"I just said to him how much I loved him. 'There was nobody in the world I'd rather be walking down the fairway with right here than you,'" Lehman said. "'It means a lot to me you're here by my side. This may be my last one, but maybe the next time I'll be caddying for you.' Hopefully that comes true."