BOSTON- Golf has brought Tom Watson more fame and fortune than he ever dreamed possible, since being introduced to the game from his father, Raymond, an insurance salesman from Kansas City, at age 6.
In a colorful and charismatic 37-year career as a golf professional, Watson, with 63 worldwide victories, ranks among the very best. For eight long years, playing in the powerful shadows of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, Steve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, none could beat Watson who walked off with five British Open Championships from 1975–1983. He also captured two Masters green jackets in ‘77 and ‘81 and an incomparable U.S Open title in ‘82.
There are certain shots that are the mark of a champion, and some of the game’s greatest highlight clips will forever include Watson on the 71st hole at Pebble Beach in the ‘82 U.S Open. Tied with Jack Nicklaus, already in the clubhouse, Watson left himself on the treacherous par-3, 17th, nestled in deep rough, with the cup cut close, on a lighting fast downhill slope. Using a sand wedge in the pressure situation, he landed the ball on the edge of the green where it picked up pace and dropped into the hole for birdie. It was a shot as remarkable and as memorable as any played in the 1980s.
The likeable “Kansas Kid” with an approachable demeanor, developed into one of the fiercest competitors the game has seen. Always a good ball-striker and an even better putter and scrambler – the “Watson par” became legendary since his game seemed to be tailor-made for the shot-making required on the links courses of the British Open rotation. Some have called him the best-ever in tournaments played in foul weather.
On April 27, the man and the legend, visited Boston to receive the 14th Francis Ouimet Award for lifetime contributions to golf. He reflected on his career and his special connection with long-time caddie, Bruce Edwards, who died at age 49 of ALS.
“The thing I’ll remember most about Bruce Edwards is the courage with which he died,” Watson said before 1,200 attendees who paid $250 each to help replenish the scholarship fund, which offers $1.5 million in college financial assistance to 260 scholars annually. “He knew he was going to die, but had courage to face it. ‘Carry on,’ were his two favorite words. And, he was fun to be around and had nicknames for all the players.”
On the topic of Tiger Woods: “He is the best ever and has dominated the game like no one before him, not even Jack. Not too long ago at Augusta, I even got Jack to admit to that, and he hesitantly agreed. No one has done what Tiger has done, and I believe he will eventually break Jack’s records.”
What about today’s $5 – $6 million dollar purses and $1 million winner’s checks compared to the ‘70s and ‘80s? “I have always said that ‘money corrupts winning.’ When I played, it was always about winning. I would play six events and take two weeks off to rest. Today’s Tour is mostly about making money, and there seems to be contentment with players making the top-10 and picking up a nice paycheck each week. I have always believed that the focus on money distracts from the real goal of winning a golf tournament.”
Should caddies be microphoned on course? “Absolutely not. The relationship between a caddie and player is a confidential matter. The conversation between a player and caddie in a tournament should never be broadcast in public, under any circumstances.”
How about a tip: “The most important part of being a better player is to first establish a good, solid grip. It is the foundation of a good golf swing. Then, get a good teacher who will instruct and guide you and act as a mentor. I was fortunate to have my father, a scratch handicap, and Kansas City Country Club pro Stan Thirst, as my two golf guardians. Byron Nelson helped me in my break-out year in 1997.”
Tom Watson joins a select group of golf heavyweights who have been honorees of the Ouimet Award for Lifetime Contributions to Golf: Arnold Palmer (’97), Gary Player (‘08), Jack Nicklaus (’07), Gene Sarazen (’98) and Greg Norman (’05).
Tom Watson File
Born: 4/9/1949, Kansas City, MO
Turned pro: 1971
PGA Tour wins: 39
Senior wins: 12
British Open wins: 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983
Other Majors: Masters (1977, 1981); US Open (1982)