Watson defies age with Greenbrier performance

By Jason SobelJuly 7, 2014, 6:30 pm

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Tom Watson emerged from a small room after signing his scorecard, a contrite smile on his weather-worn face after posting the second of three consecutive under-par rounds in a PGA Tour event this past weekend. It was just another day in the life for the 64-year-old, no big deal for a man who has gotten accustomed to age-defying performances.

He fiddled with a valuables pouch that held his watch and some lip balm, finding the drawstring a bit too finicky.

“This bag is getting old,” he said aloud to himself. “Just like me. I’m an old bag.”

Age is a relative term, but in comparison with his fellow competitors at The Greenbrier Classic, he was right. He’s old.

Not that it matters, but he’s 14 years older than anyone else who made the cut; he’s 29 years older than Jimmy Walker, one of his Ryder Cup players who missed it; and he’s 36 years older than Webb Simpson, a major champion who played with him over the first two rounds – and got beat.

“The thing that struck me most was that nothing really fazed him,” Simpson observed. “He hit it over the green a couple of times and he never said a word. He’d just go to his ball and hit it.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe he’s been bathing in the Fountain of Youth.

That might be the only way to rationalize just how impressive it is that Watson can still hang with the flatbellies, but let’s try a few other ways of putting it into perspective.

He’s so old that his first career PGA Tour start – the 1971 Kaiser International Open – was won by Billy Casper, who hasn’t won anything in almost 40 years.

He’s so old that on the day of his first career top-10 finish, Johnny Unitas led the Colts to a win and Joe Namath threw for 301 yards in a Jets' loss.

He’s so old that if he wins another event, he'll be the oldest winner ever – on the Champions Tour.

He’s so old that he’s reached an age which The Beatles once chose as the line of demarcation to symbolize when life starts coming to a withering finale.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

Tom Watson

Photos: Tom Watson through the years

Five years ago next week, Watson nearly won the Open Championship.

We all remember the story: A nervy putt from behind the final green in regulation led to an even nervier second putt. By the time he reached the first hole of a playoff against Stewart Cink, the outcome was a veritable inevitability. We'd officially been robbed of witnessing one of the greatest athletic achievements in – dare I say it? – sports history.

At the time, it was assumed Watson would contemplatively walk off into the Ailsa Craig sunset – figuratively, at least, if not also literally – and live his remaining days as simply a legend of the game. In the past tense, not the present.

He might not, like a bad wine-and-cheese analogy, be getting better with age, but he’s certainly not getting any worse.

This past week, Watson finished in a share of 35th place. It follows a made cut here last year and another the year before.

When asked to contemplate his own timelessness this past weekend, he dismissed these successes as the result of being the head pro emeritus at the resort. He waved it off as just knowing the course really well. He even chalked it up to a little luck.

Never once, though, did he allow himself to ponder how he’s able to compete against players two and three times younger than him.

Others were more than happy to reflect on their own career longevity, though – or lack thereof.

“I can’t see myself doing it in 20 years,” David Toms, 47, said with a laugh. “I’m hoping I’ll be in a boat on a lake in 20 years, but he’s out here grinding. It says a lot about how much he loves the game.”

“It would be fun to still be playing 15 years from now,” explained Jeff Maggert, 50. “He knows he can still play well. His health is good, he still has the length and obviously he still enjoys the game.”

Watson left his fellow players and the rest of us to marvel at him once again this past weekend. He never, at least not publicly, marveled at his own productivity. He never outwardly looked surprised at what he’d accomplished.

The most he allowed was just minutes after fiddling with that finicky valuables pouch and calling himself an old bag. He was asked if he could let himself think about how remarkable it really is that he can compete at the age of 64.

“Well,” he said with that same contrite smile, “I don't know how remarkable it is.”

That’s too bad. He might be the only one who doesn’t.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

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

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

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.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

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.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

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.