No tears, only joy in Watson's final Open

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 17, 2015, 11:36 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Though Tom Watson has said this before, it boggles the mind that there was a time in his life when he despised the links-style golf that would make him famous.

The first time he played the Old Course here at St. Andrews in 1978, he loved the place but loathed the golf ... and that was not only because he went into the final day tied for the lead and then, after the wind dramatically shifted, shot a 76 to fall out of contention.

No, there was something about this links golf that disagreed with his sensibilities. Golf, as he understood it then, is the fairest test of them all. It is supposed to be a game about justice. You call your own penalties. You settle your own nerves. You live with your own mistakes. The ball must be played as it lies.

In return, though, he thought the game should play fair too, which is to say that well-struck shots should turn out well and poorly struck shots should be punished.

That, too often, is not how it goes on the links courses. On the links, well-struck shots sometimes kick off mounds into pot bunkers. Bad shots sometimes skip into a perfect lie. Some balls roll into impossible places in the bunker, leaving no shot at all, while others settle into nice, comfortable areas and leave easy ups and downs. There are no trees to miss, no tight fairways to hit and the wind, lord, the Scottish wind has a mind of its own, turning and gusting and dying at its own unpredictable whims. Tom Watson liked to hit his ball high in those days, high and soft, and the Scottish wind would bat it around for fun.

“Too much was left to chance,” Watson says. “Too much came down to luck.”

He spits out the word “luck” the way a child says “homework” ... the very idea offends him. Golf shouldn’t be about luck. Or anyway, that’s what he thought all those years ago, when he was still a young man.

THEY CALL HIM "TOOM" here, or anyway that is how it sounds when he tees off for the final time at the Open Championship. The wind blows hard. Rain is in the air. “Toom!” they shout as he stripes his last drive down the wide first fairway. “We love you Toom!”

On his last trip around the Open Championship, Tom Watson wears a light blue sweater and his ubiquitous Adams baseball cap and the once youthful face that had been compared to Huck Finn has folded and crinkled.

On Thursday, he saw people wearing giant masks of his face, and they frightened him – it was like looking at age itself.

“Those are ugly masks ... too many wrinkles,” he said. “It kind of scared me looking at those things, like, ‘geez, look at those things. That guy is ugly.’”

They love him here in a way that, perhaps, he never did get loved back in the States. Part of the reason is obvious: Tom Watson won five Open Championships, more than any American, and he almost won a handful of others including the 2009 Open at Turnberry when he was 59 years old. He evolved into the greatest weather player of his time, a master of the wind, and when he was in full flight at the Open he was thrilling to watch, a whirring blur who walked fast and hit fast and played the game freely, fluidly, like a jazz musician improvising. When I wrote my book, “The Secret of Golf,” about Watson and his great rivalry with Jack Nicklaus, this was the thing that people in Scotland kept saying about him: Toom was an artist.

But there was something else they kept saying, something about how Watson carried himself like a Scot – friendly but distant, blunt but a little bit inscrutable. Americans often thought of Watson as hard to know. He wasn’t gregarious like Arnold Palmer, wasn’t legendary like Jack Nicklaus and wasn’t a comedian like Lee Trevino. He was, instead, principled, with all of the admirable and stodgy qualities that can come from such a personality.

But Scottish people saw themselves in him. They got his humor. They found their own intensity mirrored by him. They understood his humanity. At his first ever Open Championship in 1975, he played himself into a playoff with Jack Newton at Carnoustie. That morning, there was a knock on the door of the small house where he was staying in Monifieth. When he opened the door, he saw a small girl who was offering a piece of tin foil. Inside was a sprig of white heather.

There’s a Celtic folktale of a beautiful woman named Malvina who cried over purple heather when her husband was killed in battle. Her tears turned the purple heather white, which led her to pray: “May the white heather, symbol of my sorrow, bring good fortune to all who find it.” Watson beat Newton to win his first Open Championship. He carried the white heather in his bag for years.

The second time he won the Open was at Turnberry, 1977, the Duel in the Sun, where Watson and Nicklaus went back and forth in a furious final two days as the sun blazed down and sun-burned Scots scurried about in a frenzied daze. At the 16th hole, the gallery was so captivated and buzzed that officials had to stop play to calm things down. It was then that Watson looked over the scene and turned to Nicklaus:

“This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” he said.

“You bet it is,” Nicklaus said.

In the third Open victory, at Muirfield in 1980, Watson ran away. The fourth time, at Royal Troon, he outlasted everyone by keeping it together on the final two brutal days. The fifth one was in England, at Royal Birkdale. And that was the last major championship he won.

But he kept coming back over here, year after year, and they watched him grow older as his pace slowed a little, as his drives rolled a little bit shorter, as his once brave putting lost its nerve. Then in 2009, they watched him almost pull off what would have been the greatest feat in the history of golf. He came to the final hole of the Open Championship at Turnberry with a one-shot lead. His second shot rolled just over the green, his par putt never scared the hole, and he lost in the playoff. He was despondent afterward, even as people reminded him of just how miraculous his near-victory had been. When he stepped out, though, he found a nation madly in love with him.

“The Scottish people,” he says, even now, with tears in his eyes. “The way they have treated me through the years ... it’s just very special.”

WATSON CAN NO LONGER play like Watson – if he could, he certainly would not be stopping. And because he cannot play like he once did, he was not sure how his final day would feel. As it goes, though, it’s a perfect Scottish day. Wind blows. Rain falls. More wind blows. It is unpredictable, at timeS even volatile, golf, with wicked bounces and surprising gusts. And now, Tom Watson loves it.

There’s a story that goes with it. After he had won three Open Championships, he went on his first tour of Scotland’s greatest golf courses. He went with his friend Sandy Tatum, the former president of the USGA, and they went to Prestwick and Ballybunion and, finally, to the old links course at Royal Dornoch, designed by Old Tom Morris himself. They were inside, draining a pint or two, when Watson heard rain. He looked out the window and saw that it was coming down sideways and in buckets.

“Tatum!” he shouted. And their eyes met.

“I’ll organize the caddies,” Tatum said happily.

They put on their rain suits and they went out into the driving rain and Watson, for the first time in his life, just let go. There was no fairness. No justice. No control. He could barely hit a shot it was raining so hard. He could hardly find his ball after he did hit it. It was utterly impossible, and for the first time Tom understood something: That was the whole point.

“That was the day,” he says, “that I fell in love with links golf.”


AT THE 18TH AND FINAL tee on Friday, Watson turns to his son and caddie Michael and says: “There are no tears. There’s only joy.”

All around him are the sounds of seagulls and the howl of the wind and fans shouting, “Thank you, Toom! Thank you!” The sky has darkened almost to blackness; most of the other players have already called it a night. A couple of holes earlier Watson had asked his playing partners, Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker, if they wanted to quit and come back in the morning. The two men looked at each other.

“No,” Snedeker said. “Let’s finish this tonight.”

Watson cracks his drive and begins his final walk at the Open. No tears. He walks to the Swilcan Bridge, climbs up, and asks his playing partners to join him, the same way Jack Nicklaus had asked Watson to stand with him on his last Open walk. Then Tom stands with Michael. And then Tom stands alone, arms in the air, while the fans cheer. He looks over to the 18th green, and he sees the people who have waited for him, thousands of them, lined up all along the road, all waiting just to say good bye. He thinks of a story.

Not long after Bobby Jones won his Grand Slam, he came to St. Andrews to play a friendly round of golf. People heard he was there, then more people, and then more, until soon there were thousands of people standing around the 18th green hoping for just a glimpse of golf’s greatest champion. Watson knows that story because Watson’s life has been about golf, its tradition, its history, its stories. He heard many of those stories from his father Raymond, who taught Tom the game. He heard many of them from his teacher, Stan Thirsk, who pushed him to unexpected heights. He heard many of them from Byron Nelson, one of the greatest players of them all, who sort of adopted him. He heard many from his longtime caddie, Bruce Edwards, who understood him as almost no one else did.

And now, this story comes to him, and he thinks about Bobby Jones, and it connects him to the past. No tears. Just joy. He walks over to his ball, hoping desperately to hit his last shot pure. Instead, he shanks it, leaving it short of the green. No tears. He cannot play golf with the kids anymore, not at a course like St. Andrews. “That’s OK,” Michael would say. “He’s had his time.”

Snedeker and Els finish off to leave the stage to Watson, and the wind has picked up again, a few drops of rain fall, and Watson sets up to hit his shot. “Michael,” he says, “go hold the flag. I can’t see.” There is laughter. Michael holds the flag, and Tom hits it short. There are groans. He misses the par putt. There are groans again. He goes to 12 over par. But scores do not matter now. No tears.

“Hip hip hooray!” shout a few young men as Watson walks off the green. A few players – Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell and Tom Lehman – have waited to shake Tom’s hand. Watson’s wife Hillary gives him a hug. Hundreds of phone cameras point at Watson.

“I can’t believe,” Snedeker says to a few reporters, “that I got to play these last two days with my hero.”

Watson walks to the scorer’s tent. He is a very different man from the one who showed up in Scotland 40 years ago and was given a sprig of white heather, and won the Open for the first time. If you had asked him then about golf, he would have talked about justice and fairness. But he knows now that golf is not about that. No, golf is about being unconquerable. No one can beat the game. No one can birdie all 18 holes. No one can play their best every day. And no one can be a great player forever.

Tom and Michael came to St. Andrews with the hope of making the cut, finishing in the top 25, heck, maybe even shocking everyone and winning it like he almost did not so long ago. But it couldn’t end that way because, Watson understands now, golf is not about that.

“What is the biggest lesson you learned from golf?” Watson was asked. He thought about it for a few seconds, and though he didn’t want to cry, maybe a tear did bubble up in his eye.

“Humility,” he said.

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.