PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Tom Lehman took a final walk up the 18th hole in the British Open, his son on the bag and a few tears in his eyes.
The 1996 Open winner, who mostly plays now on the Champions Tour, missed the cut after adding a second round 76 to his opening 78. At 60 he’s run into the age limit for former champions after playing in 24 Opens, though he could qualify for another Open if he wins the British Senior Open.
Lehman said he had to fight back tears as he ended with a par on the last hole. Walking up to the green, he told his son, Thomas, an aspiring player, how much it all meant to him.
“I just said to him how much I loved him,” Lehman said. “There’s nobody I’d rather be walking down the fairway with right here than you. This may be my last one, but maybe the next time I’ll be caddying for you.”
Lehman won the Open at Royal Lytham in 1996, his only major championship. He hadn’t made the cut in the Open since 2013 but said he was hopeful going in to Royal Portrush because he was playing well.
A five-time winner on the PGA Tour, Lehman’s career peaked when he took a six-shot lead into the final round of the 1996 Open, then held off Ernie Els and Mark McCumber by two shots. A 20-year-old amateur, Tiger Woods, made the cut that year, finishing 22nd.
“I really expected to play well this week,” Lehman said. “I’ve been playing pretty steadily back home, hitting the ball extremely well and driving it great. So my whole thing this week was I think this is a good course for me. And of course I didn’t play that well.”
Lehman was never able to replicate his signature win, with his tie for fourth in 2000 at St. Andrews his only Open top 10 after that. He never won any other majors, either, though he finished second at the 1994 Masters and third two times in the U.S. Open.
Lehman said memories of his past Opens were in his mind as he played his way around Royal Portrush, knowing he wasn’t going to play again. He will continue to play in the British Senior Open, including next week at Lytham, where he won his lone major.
He said the biggest memory was the police officer who escorted him everywhere that week, including on the 18th hole where he parted a path in the gallery to allow Lehman to get to the green. He said he traded hats with the officer, and still has the hat.
“It was more emotional than I thought it would be,” he said. “I did everything in my power not to start bawling walking down the 18th fairway. I didn’t totally succeed but I mostly succeeded.”
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