Thomas Sturges Watson was born on September 4, 1949. In the 70s and 80s he was one of the most dominant players in the world, being ranked number one in the world from 1978 through 1982. He won six PGA Player of the Year awards, has played on four Ryder Cup teams and captained a victorious squad in 1993. Already in the hall of fame and recognized as one of the best players of all time, Watson stands on the precipice of completing one of the most amazing accomplishments in not just golf, but all of sports. As I write this, 59 year old Watson leads the Open by one shot with 18 holes to play.
Watson was first in contention for a major championship at the 1974 US Open. Holding the 54 hole lead, he faded away on the last day. I was 4 months old. With the help of Byron Nelson, who took Tom under his wing, he won shortly after that at the Western Open. He went on to win 8 majors: Two Masters, A US Open and of course, five British Opens. Watson’s dramatic chip in on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach in 1982 to help win the US Open may be his most famous shot, but his head-to-head duel in the sun with Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977 was proclaimed by many as the best match ever played.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Watson is playing well at Turnberry again. The place holds significant meaning for him, and he’s been alluding to the spiritual feeling he has when on the grounds. Although it has been 22 years since he won the Open at Turnberry, many people forget that he won the Senior British open at Turnberry in 2003, and also won the Senior British again in 2005 and 2007. With 8 British and Senior British Open Championships, Watson is perhaps the greatest links golfer ever. I remember a lesson I once read authored by Watson about inclement weather. Rather than curse bad weather and being miserable, he learned to cherish the difficult conditions and found a way to navigate the course even in the worst weather. He understood that playing in bad weather gave him an advantage, because he’s one of the few that actually wanted to play in bad weather.
Many of us watched Greg Norman leading the Open last year at age 53, but sadly, most of us knew in our hearts that he would probably fade on Sunday. It’s rare for a simple golf tournament to incite much emotion in the viewers and spectators. A few tournaments in recent memory provoked such emotions. Jack Nicklaus’ historic back nine charge at the 1986 Masters immediately comes to mind. His win that year was the reason I started playing golf. Tiger’s victory in 1997, also at the Masters, ushered in the Tiger Woods era. David Duval’s 59 at the 1999 Bob Hope Classic was also a very powerful round for me. I will not be the only one rooting for Tom Watson to win the British Open tomorrow. I’ll be joining millions of people that will be riveted to their televisions to possibly watch sports history. Hopefully one day we’ll all look back on July 19, 2009 as the day we all witnessed the ghosts of Old Tom Morris and Bruce Edwards guide Tom Watson around the famed links of Turnberry’s Ailsa course to his sixth British Open Championship. If he can pull it off – and I think he will – there won’t be a dry eye in the house. How does that saying go? “The golf ball doesn’t know how old you are.” Go Tom!
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