Its a Different Watson But a Contented One
Watson, by the way, was Tiger Woods before there ever was a Tiger Woods. For eight years, he was the best player in the game. From 1977 to 1985, he won 29 times ' six in 1980, five each in 78 and 79.
Now, though, he is just a pretty good Senior. He only plays occasionally, 13 times for each of the past two years. This year he has been coaxed away from his wife and stepchildren 10 times to go play with the elders. That is more than the usual, but Watson obviously is comfortable doing it his way, popping out only occasionally to play golf.
Sunday was yet another runner-up finish for Watson. He was second this time to Don Pooley at the U.S. Senior Open. Pooley was often injured when he was playing the junior tour, so his two PGA Tour wins are hardly a synopsis of the way he played. But suffice it to say, he was no Tom Watson.
But this is approximately 20 years after Watson was high-stepping it around winning tournaments as often as Pooley changed socks. Watson doesnt play too often anymore, and Pooley is much improved in both his health and his mechanics. Obviously, the vast chasm that separated them when they were 30 doesnt mean a whole lot here in the year 2002.
Ergo, one shouldnt be too surprised that the gap has shrunk considerably. This tour will do that to you, a tour that lifts former journeyman such as Doug Tewell, Bruce Fleisher, Gil Morgan and Allen Doyle to the status of so many Nicklauses.
Of course, theres the rather indelicate matter of Watsons putter. For a decade, he rolled it as well as anyone in the game. But his last 10 years in the game have been an almost daily exercise of jab-it-and-miss-it.
Root for my putter, will you? Watson joked at the Senior Open. I need a little help in that area.
In the second and third rounds, Watsons putter was the putter of those last 10 years. In the final round Sunday, he found something ' again ' and began stroking in everything. Oh, if only he could putt like the old Watson. He stripes the ball up fairways to the green. But once he gets the putter in his hands, its the ultimate adventure.
The Watson saga is the downfall of so many of greats past. Sam Snead. Ben Hogan. Arnold Palmer. All were impressive putters at one time, but after years and years of dropping them in, something just seemed to come unwound. Watson has heard it, experienced it, so many times that a missed putt has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The fine motor skills ' theyre the first to go with some people, Watson said. Thats what has happened to me.
Its not to the point where I cant take the putter back ' the putter goes back in funny places. It doesnt go back where it should go back. It doesnt go through the way it should go through.
Hes gotten putting tips from all across North America. He reads them all, even if he doesnt necessarily try every one.
I listen to them, sure, said Watson. Sure, I listen to some more than others. I have scientists sending me all sorts of theories that they believe in. I send them back a note saying, Thank you for the tip.
There is the occasional one from the other end of the galaxy ' the ones where they said to close the left eye and putt left-handed sidesaddle, he said.
But those times when Watson is putting well, he doesnt see anything but the hole. You arent even thinking about how you stroke it. You just see the hole and you go after it.
So Watson labors with this one enormous handicap, a handicap that, for one beautiful afternoon Sunday, didnt exist. He holed everything. If he could putt like this, all the Senior Tour records would go out the window. If I could putt, I could win, he says simply. Theres no question about that. But I preface that with the if.
Still, Tom Watson is nothing if not a man of convictions. He dropped out of the Kansas City Country Club because of its stance on not admitting Jewish members. He isnt Jewish, but his ex-wife was. He once was involved in a rules clash with Gary Player, and his feelings about Bill Murray at Pebble Beach are rather well known.
Perhaps nothing, though, explains Watson as much as a decision he made at Winged Foot during U.S. Open week in 1984. The father of a close friend from his Stanford days had died unexpectedly. The funeral was clear across the continent, but Watson never hesitated. He caught a flight at 9 a.m. out of Newark, attended the funeral, then turned around and caught a red-eye, and straight to Winged Foot for practice. His friend, Jim Vernon, will forever be grateful for Watsons kind act.
And, he was runner-up in the U.S. Open, senior variety. He won an Open, junior variety, with his great chip-in in 1982. This one was just as exciting, though he didnt quite win. It fits within the framework of your age, he said. In other words, the Senior Open means every bit as much to the 50-and-overs as the U.S. Open means to Tiger.
The only thing was, in the days when he was a junior, it seems like he won them all. That was a different time, of course, and Watsons life goals were in a different place. That was a time when Watson was all golf. This is a time when Watson is a little bit golf, but a whole lot just the man down the street.
Perhaps, too, is Pooley. And cest la vie, said Watson, who obviously is pleased with the present-day Thomas Sturgis Watson.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.