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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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.