Watson Wiser Now But Still Dangerous

By George WhiteJune 23, 2003, 4:00 pm
I couldnt help but notice the guy sitting at the next table in a room full of perhaps 50 tables. He was Tom Watson, the guy who has won eight major championships, won 39 times on the PGA Tour. What was he doing here, this late in the evening during Masters week?
It was a couple of years ago, and the occasion was a writers banquet. Tiger had left long before after receiving his award. So had Annika. They should have gone ' there was no reason for them to linger. Two hours of sitting through yet another award, then another, is never easy.
But there was one of the greatest golfers on earth, patiently sitting there with all the common folk. He wasnt being honored for anything, never stood up for any presentation. But he stayed from start to finish, never once noticeably fidgety. He was there solely for one reason ' for a friend named Nick Seitz, who was getting the final award of the night.
I tell this story to dramatize the kind of a person Tom Watson is. No, he isnt particularly warm, not overly friendly ' but when he has a friend, it is a TRUE friend. Watson sat there with all us yokels, neither asking special favors nor being granted any. He came out of respect for his friend Seitz, and that was the only reason.
This week, Watson is in Toledo to play the U.S. Senior Open. It was long ago that he won the first major ' the 75 British Open. Its been a long time since he was among the best putters this game has ever produced. But if true respect is a part of the equation, then Watson gives it to a few friends ' and has gotten it from millions.
Hes 53 years old now and along with his dimished putting is also his penchant for showing up at these tournaments ' hes played about half the time the Champions Tour has gone to the post. He is deep into the work of raising a second family - he married his second wife a few years back and has three stepchildren that are still in school. And he has a caddy, Bruce Edwards, who has Lou Gehrig's disease. Golf is a long way from being the only thing in his life.
He really isnt that old, but last year at the Senior PGA, he addressed the issue. Dont expect to see him launching laser beams at the stick anymore. Oh, he will knock em down on occasion ' witness the recent U.S. Open when he opened with a 65. But it doesnt with near the regularity it used to, back in the late 70s and early 80s. And those silly putts have the dangest habit of avoiding the hole now.
Its called age, he said. Fifty-two years. The wheels are getting rusty. Theyre definitely getting rusty. Sometimes you can put all the oil in there you want, but that rush doesnt go away very easy. The Advil works sometimes and it makes it easier to play and its just one of those facts you have to do.
But this game is easier to understand in some respects. It gets easier the more you know about yourself.
Knowing your limitations, knowing what you can and cant do ' it comes from experience, obviously, to know that, Watson said. And Ive had lots of times when I thought thats an 8-iron shot ' nah, am I trying to fool myself, its a 7-iron shot.
I kind of laugh at myself. I know I cant hit an 8-iron that way. To carry the ball ' hit it out of the rough, I used to ' I was a really good rough player, and I cant hit the ball out of the rough anymore. No clubhead speed. Its not so much technique. Its clubhead speed.
He allowed his mind to wander back through a couple decades, days 25 years ago when he was competing again with Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player. The young Watson lost a lot, the wiser Watson won a lot. He still plays against them, only nowadays its on a different level.
I dont consider it any different than 20 years ago, said Watson. Were out competing.
When I first came out on the Senior Tour, the one reason Im out here is to compete and enjoy the competition on good golf courses. We have all that here, plus a wonderful pairing. I can assure you that both Jack and Gary will be out trying their damnedest to beat me. And Ill be trying my damnedest to beat them.
One part of Watson's game has not changed ' he still makes the sweet, solid contact on almost every shot. His mentor, Byron Nelson, had predicted that when Watson was back in his 30s that he would become a better ball striker when he was in his 40s. Nicklaus predicted the same thing.
He (Nicklaus) said, Youre going to hit the ball better than you ever have, the older you get, said Watson.
You basically fall into a pattern where your swing will repeat itself a lot better than when you were a kid, probably because of using your feel a little better. I made a slight adjustment in my setup that really adjusted my swing plane, and that was back in the early 90s. Ever since then, Ive hit the ball quite a bit better than I did in the late 80s.
Watson plays Inverness this week in yet another USGA championship. He played his first 31 years ago ' the 72 U.S. Open. Now its time for the U.S. Senior Open, and Watson is a youngster again, walking around with the games legends.
Come to think of it, hes a legend, too. But he didnt look it that night when he was sitting around watching all of us writing hacks pick up awards.
Related Links:
  • Bio: Tom Watson
  • Full Coverage of The U.S. Senior Open
  • More Champions Tour Preview Information
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    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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    Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

    When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

    Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

    "I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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    The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

    Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

    "It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.