With his name etched onto the Claret Jug five times, Tom Watson will forever be one of the true greats of links golf.
From 1975 to 1983, he was the dominant force on Britain’s finest courses – succeeding at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal Birkdale.
Yet one Open venue he did not rule is Royal Portrush, and the American certainly wishes he had the chance to prowl the Dunluce Links in his prime.
The 69-year-old – who retired from golf last weekend at the Senior Open – was in Northern Ireland to see history made as Shane Lowry became just the second player to win golf’s original championship outside mainland Great Britain, as Royal Portrush returned to the rota for the first time in 68 years.
The County Antrim course played host to the Senior Open from 1995-1999 and then again in 2004, so in comparison to the field who contested The 148th Open a fortnight ago, Watson – a three-time Senior Open champion – is an expert.
And, like so many others, he liked what he saw.
Watson said: “To see the enormity of the event, to see the infrastructure that had to go in to make sure that people who come to The Open comfortable is remarkable.
“The golf course is as good as it gets and I think the pros themselves really love playing this golf course and I think it will be back again – I hope it’s back again soon.
“ I have played it myself and I was quite happy with the way I played the first 13 holes, I was level par, but then the last five holes I was +6 – Calamity got me.” Tom WatsoN
“I have played it myself and I was quite happy with the way I played the first 13 holes, I was level par, but then the last five holes I was +6 – Calamity got me.”
WHY THE OPEN IS SPECIAL
The Open has long had a history of inclusivity and at The 148th Open players from 29 countries competed, while there were qualifying events Australia, Korea, Canada and South Africa.
“The Open is the pinnacle of golf in the world, in the sense that it’s the world’s Open,” Watson added.
“You can truthfully define it as that because people from all over come to play in The Open.
“One of the great things The R&A has done is gone to the Asian Pacific Amateur and they’ve inspired the people of Asia to say if I’m the best player then I can get an exemption to play in The Open.
“My goal in my area as a global ambassador is to inspire people to play the game and to give them that opportunity through different programmes to play the game.
“That’s what The R&A is very adamantly for and supports.”
THE SUN SETS
Watson certainly knows how The Open can launch a player’s career, as well as define it.
After announcing himself on the world stage by winning his first major in 1975, an 18-hole play-off victory at Carnoustie, he was in fine form by the time The 1977 Open came around at Turnberry.
In one of the greatest battles sport has ever seen, Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in a contest aptly named ‘the Duel in the Sun,’ having beaten the Golden Bear just months earlier at Augusta for his first Masters win.
He would go on and win the trophy a further three times, before going oh so close to another aged 59 at Turnberry.
A decade on from that improbable charge and Watson has called it a day, bowing out at Royal Lytham & St Annes during The Senior Open.
“The crowds were very warm and appreciative,” said Watson.
“There will be other people who will take the reins and they will do what I did. Life is full of passages, and I've passed through my career here, starting in 1975 to here in 2019. It's amazing.”