PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — More than two decades after lifting the Claret Jug, former champion Tom Lehman fought back the tears as he walked down the 18th fairway at Royal Portrush on Friday for what is almost certain to be his last British Open.
The native Minnesotan who later grew up in Alexandria, Minn., battled way to a second-round five-over-par 76 that left him at 12-over for the tournament, well outside the cut, and he took few moments to soak up the atmosphere.
"There was emotion for sure. You don't really know how you're going to react to the last thing of something," Lehman said. "And this one was very sweet and joyful."
Lehman won five PGA Tour titles but it was his 1996 Open victory at Royal Lytham where he edged out Ernie Els and Mark McCumber that was the champagne moment of his career.
The former world number one who played collegiately at Minnesota was given a loud reception by the fans all around the course but what made the moment even more special was that he got to share the walk with his son Thomas, who was caddying for him this week.
As they approached the final green, Lehman had a heartfelt message for his son.
"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."
Now aged 60, Lehman's exemption expires and if he wants to qualify for another Open, he will have to win the Senior Open, which will be played at Royal Lytham next week.
"I could still win a Senior Open. I told my wife if I could write the perfect script and play one more, I'd win so I could play St Andrews in two years," he added.