Facing final Masters, Watson feeling joy

By John FeinsteinApril 5, 2016, 2:15 pm

Tom Watson insists he isn’t thinking about it. He says he’s much too focused on trying to play well and make the cut in his final Masters to have given any thought to the emotions he’s going to feel when he walks up the 18th fairway at Augusta National for the final time.

“Honestly, I’m doing what I’ve always done, practicing and trying to get ready to play as well as I can possibly play,” he said last week, sipping a glass of water during a lengthy sit-down interview at Kansas City Country Club, the place where his remarkable golf odyssey began 60 years ago.

“I was 6 when my dad first took me to the range out here, put a club in my hand and held my head with his hand so I wouldn’t move it,” he said, smiling at the memory. “He let go after a little while because he could see that I got it.”

Watson got it in ways few players in history have ever gotten it. The numbers are extraordinary: eight major titles; 39 PGA Tour wins; 71 wins worldwide; six PGA Tour Player of the Year awards – not to mention remarkable longevity.

Two months before turning 60, Watson came within inches of winning a sixth Open Championship. The following April he became the first player to shoot 67 or better in all four majors in four different decades, when he opened with a 67 at the Masters en route to finishing tied for 18th. A year ago at Augusta, at 65, he became the oldest man to break par in the Masters – shooting 71 on Thursday.

“But 81 on Friday,” he quickly points out.

Which is why this will be his 43rd, and last, Masters and his 145th, and last, major championship.


Masters Tournament: Articles, photos and videos


“I just can’t play the golf course well anymore,” he said. “I don’t hit it long enough to really compete. I’ll miss it, I know I’ll miss it. I’ll be jealous, next year, of the guys who are playing. But it’s time.”

What if he makes the cut?

“Ask me that question if I do it,” he said, smiling the trademark, gap-toothed Huck Finn grin.

Watson has never been one to let his emotions show – at least not very often. Even last July, when he walked over the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews in near darkness on Friday in his final Open Championship, there were no tears.

“I told [son] Michael then and I’m going to tell everyone now, this should be about joy, just joy,” he said. “I may have had some regrets in my career, but when I look back that’s the word for my life: joy.”

It isn’t as if Watson has NEVER shed tears publicly. When Bruce Edwards, his best friend and caddie for 30 years, died 12 years ago of ALS, Watson cried unabashedly after playing his first round at the Masters on the morning Edwards died. When someone asked him if he’d thought about not playing after getting the news less than an hour before his tee time, Watson shook his head and smiled through his tears.

“If I’d have done that,” he said, “Bruce would have come back here and kicked my butt.”

He was right about that.

Some thought that Watson’s last major would be last summer at St. Andrews. After all, he won the Open Championship on five occasions and became an adopted Scot. His first major title came at Carnoustie in 1975, the first time he played in the event.

“I still remember Byron Nelson saying to me before the last round, ‘Tom, the wind is up today. You shoot around par, you can win.’ I did and I came from, I think three shots back, to end up tied with Jack Newton.”

Watson beat Newton in an 18-hole playoff the next day. Two years later, he twice beat Nicklaus head-to-head down the stretch: first at Augusta, then at Turnberry. Watson was standing in the 13th fairway on Masters Sunday, tied for the lead with Nicklaus, when Nicklaus rolled in a birdie putt up ahead on the green and, to Watson’s way of thinking, pointed back at him as if to say, ‘take that.’”

“I was in competition mode,” Watson said, laughing at the memory. “Jack later told me that absolutely wasn’t what he was doing, but at that moment I decided he was. Probably helped me. My thought was, ‘bring it on.’”

Watson matched Nicklaus’s birdie at 13 and then birdied 17 to take the lead. He ended up winning by two.

“That was the first time Jack waited for me behind a green to congratulate me,” he said. “It was very special.

“At Turnberry, after he made me make my last 2-footer by making one from 40 feet, he kind of put me in a headlock walking off the 18th green and said, ‘I gave you my best shot and it wasn’t good enough.’ That was really the moment when I felt like I had arrived.”

He was the best player in the world for most of the next six years. His one U.S. Open victory was his most famous win: the chip-in on the 17th at Pebble Beach that (again) broke a tie with Nicklaus. He then rolled in a birdie putt at 18 to win by two. That final putt was going very fast when it hit the hole and went in.

“I called my dad afterwards,” Watson remembered. “The [U.S.] Open was always the major he cherished the most. He could name every Open champion. So, I called and said, ‘Dad, I finally did it.’ He said, ‘Nice lag on 18.’

“I said, ‘It would have gone a foot by the hole if it’d missed.’ His answer was something along the lines of, ‘Yeah, right.’”

The reason Watson chose Augusta to make his exit is simple: It is where he began, not only playing his first major there as a Stanford junior in 1970, but seriously thinking that maybe, just maybe, he was good enough to play the Tour after he qualified for the Masters by finishing fifth at the U.S. Amateur the previous summer at Oakmont.

“I was struggling the first day of the Amateur, playing late in the day,” he said. “I think I was 3 or 4 over when I got to No. 8, the long par 3. The green was in shadows because of the trees so we couldn’t see it. I hit a 3-iron, flush, right at the hole. I heard a few people shouting back at us. Turned out the ball had gone in.”

The ace, followed by a birdie at the ninth, jump-started Watson and, in those days, the top eight finishers (it was all medal play) qualified for the following year’s Masters.

“When I realized I was going to play in the Masters, I thought, ‘OK, this is serious now,’” he said. “When I was a kid, I never played after September 1. I played other sports and, honestly, I was tired of golf after playing all summer. I did pretty much the same thing my first two years at Stanford. But when I knew I was going to play the Masters, I figured I better be ready to play.”

He remembers having a chance to make the cut that year – rolling along at 1 under par on Friday when he and Gay Brewer arrived at the 13th tee.

“I hit a big drive around the corner,” he said. “I had a 6 iron to the green and I put it in the creek. Went from birdie to double-bogey with a 6-iron in my hands. I missed the cut by three.”

There are almost too many memories since then for Watson to count. He remembers his first Champions Dinner in 1978 when Ben Hogan presented him with a Masters champion’s pin. It was Hogan’s last Champions Dinner.

And, he still thinks of Edwards – who loved the Masters more than any other tournament – every time he sets foot on the grounds at Augusta National. Since 2005, he has taken an egg salad sandwich with him in his bag when he tees it up on Thursday. At the 13th tee, he walks to the bench at the back of the tee and lays the sandwich there.

“It’s for Bruce,” he said. “That’s the most private place on the golf course and there’s always a delay there because guys are going for the green in two. Bruce would always take an egg salad sandwich out there and eat it on that tee while we waited.”

Neil Oxman, who first pointed Edwards in Watson’s direction in St. Louis in 1973, will be Watson’s caddie this last time around. Oxman, who manages Democratic political campaigns (and is 180 degrees opposite of Watson in political philosophy), has caddied for Watson since Edwards’ death whenever he has free time.

Six years ago, Michael Watson was on the bag for the Masters when Watson had his last top-20 finish. He also caddied for his father in his last U.S. Open that June at Pebble Beach and then last summer at St. Andrews. Oxman assumed Michael Watson would also caddie for this last hurrah.

“He said he didn’t want to do it,” Oxman said. “He wanted his last memory inside the ropes with his dad to be that 67 and the 18th-place finish. He said, ‘you do it, you should do it.’”

And so, Watson and Oxman will carry one last egg salad sandwich with them to the 13th tee. Whether Watson will cry walking up 18 for the last time is hard to know because he’s the first to admit he has no idea what he will be feeling when the cheers wash over him in those final moments.

One thing though is certain: when Watson leaves that last sandwich for Bruce, he will shed a few tears. He’ll feel the sting of his absence, but also, without doubt, will remember the moments of joy they shared on that spot.

One more memory to take with him.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3, Tiger Woods

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:45 pm

After returning to competition at the Hero World Challenge in December 2016, Woods started the new year with an ambitious slate of tournament starts as he eyed his first full season since 2013. But he made it only three rounds, looking rusty en route to a missed cut at Torrey Pines before withdrawing abruptly in Dubai.

The “spasms” that led to that withdrawal turned out to be something far more serious, as Woods underwent his fourth and most invasive back surgery in April, a lumbar fusion. It brought with it an extensive rehabilitation, and at the Presidents Cup in September Woods humored the prospect that he might never again play competitive golf.

At Liberty National he also faced some scrutiny for an off-course incident from months prior. In May he was arrested for suspicion of DUI, an incident that produced a startling roadside video of an intoxicated Woods struggling to follow instructions from the arresting officer after driving erratically.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


While he was not drinking at the time, Woods was found to have a mix of several prescription medications in his system, including multiple painkillers. He checked himself into a private drug treatment program in July to address his dependency issues, and in October he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

But the incident was barely a memory when Woods again made a return to competition in the Bahamas at the tournament he hosts. This time around he exceeded nearly every expectation, twice shooting 4-under 68 while tying for ninth among the 18-man field. Having re-tooled his swing following fusion surgery, Woods appeared relaxed, happy and healthy while briefly taking the lead during the tournament’s second round.

What lies ahead for Woods in 2018 remains uncertain, as the stop-and-start nature of this past season serves as a cautionary tale. But after a harrowing arrest and another serious surgery, he seems once again focused on his game, intent on chasing down a new crop of elite talent, some of whom are barely more than half his age.

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Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

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Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

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Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

NBC Sports' Coverage of LPGA Tour in 2017 Most-Viewed Season Ever for NBC Sports

By Golf Channel Public RelationsDecember 13, 2017, 8:45 pm

NBC Sports’ LPGA Tour Coverage Ties 2013 for Most-Watched Year Since 2011

NBC and Golf Channel Boast Top-6 Most-Watched Women’s Golf Telecasts in 2017

Beginning with the dramatic playoff finish at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in January and concluding with Lexi Thompson winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, nearly 22 million viewers tuned in to LPGA Tour coverage across Golf Channel and NBC in 2017. This makes 2017 the most-viewed LPGA Tour season across NBC Sports since Golf Channel joined the NBC Sports Group in 2011. Additionally, 2017 tied 2013 as the LPGA Tour’s most-watched year across NBC Sports since 2011. Coverage drew an average of 221,000 viewers per telecast in 2017 (+24% vs. 2016), according to data released by The Nielsen Company.

NBC SPORTS GROUP CLAIMS TOP-6 MOST-WATCHED WOMEN’S GOLF TELECASTS IN ‘17

For the first time ever in televised women’s golf, Sunday’s final round of the RICOH Women’s British Open (Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 1.1 million viewers) delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast of the year. NBC’s Saturday (Day 2) coverage of the Solheim Cup in August placed second with 968,000 viewers, followed by Sunday’s Solheim Cup coverage on NBC with 946,000 viewers. Golf Channel’s live coverage of Sunday’s final day of the Solheim Cup drew 795,000 viewers, the most-watched women’s golf event on cable in eight years.

Rank

Network

Event

Day

Avg. Viewers P2+

1

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Sunday

1,100,526

2

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Saturday

968,202

3

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

946,387

4

NBC

KPMG WOMEN'S PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday

839,983

5

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Saturday

808,578

6

GOLF

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

795,000

ADDITIONAL VIEWERSHIP MILESTONES FOR WOMEN’S GOLF IN 2017

  • ANA Inspiration - The LPGA’s first major championship delivered thefifth most-watched LPGA final round in Golf Channel history with 551,000 viewers when So Yeon Ryu defeated Lexi Thompson in a playoff following Thompson being assessed a four-stroke penalty earlier in the final round.
  • KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – The LPGA’s second major was seen by 6.6 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the largest audience for the event on record (2006-17). Sunday’s final round on NBC, which saw Danielle Kang win her first LPGA Tour event over defending champion Brooke Henderson, also was the most-watched telecast in the event’s history with 840,000 average viewers.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – NBC’s Sunday coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast in 2017 (.78 U.S. HH rating, 1.1 million viewers). In total, 7 million unique viewers tuned in to coverage across Golf Channel and NBC, the most-watched RICOH Women’s British Open in the past 10 years and the most-watched among the five women’s major championships in 2017.
  • Solheim Cup – Seen by a total audience of 7.3 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the Solheim Cup posted the largest total audience for women’s golf since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open on ESPN/NBC. Golf Channel’s live coverage of the final day drew 795,000 average viewers, becoming the most-watched women’s golf telecast on cable in the last eight years, since the final day of the 2009 Solheim Cup.

GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL POSTS RECORD STREAMING CONSUMPTION

Golf Channel Digital posted record numbers of LPGA streaming consumption with 11.9 million live minutes streamed across LPGA Tour telecasts in 2017 (+563% vs. 2016).

  • Solheim Cup – Three-day coverage of the Solheim Cup saw 6.3 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports’ Digital platforms, trailing only the 2016 Rio Olympics (9 million) as the most-ever for a women’s golf event airing on Golf Channel / NBC.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – Four-day coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open saw 2 million minutes streamed, +773% vs. 2016.

NBC Sports Group combined to air 31 LPGA Tour events in 2017 and a total of 420 hours of coverage, the most in LPGA history. The exclusive cable home to the LPGA Tour, Golf Channel aired coverage of four of five women’s major championships in 2017, with three majors also airing on NBC: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, RICOH Women’s British Open and The Evian Championship. The biennial Solheim Cup also returned to network television for the first time in 15 years with weekend coverage on NBC.

Source: Nielsen 2017 Live+Same Day DVR vs. prior available data. Persons 2+ avg 000’s and/or Persons 2+ reach w/six-minute qualifier. Digital Metrics from Adobe Reports & Analytics. Details available.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.