Tom Watson took some time out to talk to the media before his final appearance at The Open and there was barely a dry eye in the house.
The start to his Open Journey
“Back in ’75 I was just trying to learn how to play this game. I had a fortunate week at Carnoustie, not a lot of wind, not a lot of rough and I prevailed in the play-off and that began my Open odyssey, you might say. The ’77 Open at Turnberry was the place where I really felt I belonged out here on the professional Tour. I felt that I play against the best and beat the best. When I won at Turnberry against Jack, I realised I’d achieved that goal.
How he came to love links golf
Troon ’82 and Birkdale ’83 is when I actually started to like links golf. Up until that point, I didn’t particularly like it. In fact, I didn’t like it at all the first time here at St Andrews in ’78. I didn’t like the uncertainly of it, didn’t like the bounces. I played the ball in the air, way up there and that’s not the best way to play links golf, as many of you know.
The precise moment he came to terms with this form of the game
In ’81 my friend, Sandy Tatum, said to me ‘Watson, let’s go and play some links golf’. So we started at Ballybunion, where we had a wonderful time. Then we went to Prestwick and Troon, played Prestwick in the morning, had what you’d call a long and liquid lunch, and then proceeded to go to Troon. The next day we headed up to Dornoch and played it in the morning in no wind. Donald Grant, the local historian, had a reception for us after we played and during that, when we looked outside, we saw the wind was howling and the rain was coming down sideways. We looked at each other and nodded and out we went and played another 18 holes in the wind and rain. That’s when I fell in love with links golf. That was quite a struggle, struggle, struggle. But that’s the element, that’s what it’s all about and you’re going to see it (at St Andrews) on Friday. You’re going to see some major struggles out there, according to the weather forecast, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the field copes with this golf course under these conditions.
Why he decided to quit playing in The Open
Now it’s time for my final Open at St Andrews. This will be it. It would be nice if I ended up in the top-10, to be able to extend for five years, but I don’t foresee that though I’m playing pretty well. I’m also announcing next year’s Masters is going to be my last Masters. The course is too big for me, and with my declining skills and length I won’t be playing that. As I said a few weeks ago, the toolbox is kind of half empty now. I’m missing some tools and the rest are pretty rusty. I know I have a few (good shots) left in me but probably not enough to really make it right. I’ve lost my distance over the last couple of years. I don’t have the clubhead speed and I don’t compress the ball very well. I’ll probably still play in the British Senior Open but not here. I need everything to compete against the kids, everything, and I don’t have it. I’m pretty honest with myself. I know.
Most lasting memory of playing in The Open
Right at the very beginning, on the Sunday morning I was playing Jack Newton in the play-off (in ’75), I was leaving the house, and it’s raining, it’s cold, and a little Scottish girl comes to the front door. She said ‘Mr Watson, please take this for good luck, or at least I think that’s what she said because I could barely understand her. She gave me a little thing of tin foil with white heather and I kept it in my bag for years for good luck, and it brought be good luck.
The shots he remembers most
There are so many shots I remember but one of the best was the 2-iron to the final hole at Birkdale in ’83. I mean I hit that one hundred percent. I hit the best 2-iron I ever hit. I try to not to remember the bad shots but I do remember the shot I hit at the Road Hole right here in ’84. I just hit a terrible shot. I pushed it 30 yards right of where I wanted to hit it. It wasn’t even close. Yeah, it could have been the wrong club, but I was trying to land the ball on the green like an idiot from an uphill lie. Sometimes you make the wrong decisions out here. But I don’t have regrets. The only regret I have is that it’s the end. It really is. It’s the end. I regret I don’t have the tools in the toolbox to continue on.
Would he change anything in his career
I don’t think like that. What happens, happens. I had more than my fair share of lucky bounces, I really did. I’ve had more lucky bounces that bad bounces so I feel grateful for that. On links land, it’s an uncertain game, you don’t know where the ball is going to end up until the ball stops rolling. My shot into the last green at Turnberry in 2009 is an example of that. I hit it exactly the way I wanted it to but it landed on a slight knob on a downslope. A foot short or a yard past and it have been all right. The thing I loved about that tournament was what Jack (Nicklaus) did. He called me and consoled me but also made a joke and that was the fun thing. He said ‘you know, Tom, you hit a great tee ball off 18. Then you hit a perfect second shot. You played the right third shot, you putted rather than chipped the ball but then you hit the putt like the rest of us would have hit it.’ That cracked me up because it came from the greatest player in the game. He knew how to console me and I loved him for it. That helped me in my moment of turmoil, sadness.
His hope for this week
I’m out here to compete. I’ve never stopped competing, ever. It’s not a ceremony at all. The other part of it is the walk over the Swilcan Bridge. If it’s Friday, it’s Friday, if it’s Sunday, it’s Sunday. I’ll walking over the bridge with my son, Michael, on the bag which will be very special. I hope I’m fighting for the top-10 going across that bridge. But, in reality, if not, it’ll be the final walk. You know, I’ve done that final walk before, it’s like déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra said.