Young Tom Watson

By Rich LernerMay 21, 2009, 4:00 pm
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BOSTON – So often he was described as “the boyish” Tom Watson. To this day, only the creases on his face disagree. Otherwise, he still looks much as he did 30 years ago.
He’s pure Polo when we meet at the Ouimet Scholarship Fund Banquet last month – white linen pants, green striped dress shirt with a matching tie and a blue blazer. The piercing eyes and gap toothed smile make a deeper impression. 'This is,' I tell myself, 'one of the most famous faces in the history of golf.'
Watson, turning 60 this September, was being honored for lifetime contributions to golf. And before he lectured, he recalled his student days.
“I was eight years old when I read Darwin’s book on (Francis) Ouimet,” he says.
Watson was influenced not only by good books, but by a good father.
“My dad prided himself on knowing every U.S. Open winner,” he says. “Even after his stroke he could remember them all the way back to 1895, 1913 was a cinch.
“Ouimet was a true amateur. And not only did he win the Open, but the U.S. Amateur twice, 17 years apart. Ouimet was also captain of the R&A, and you don’t become captain – especially an American – without a passion for the game.”
Watson’s own passion was stoked as a boy playing $1 Nassau at Kansas City Country Club with his father, Ray, a former U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist, his dad’s friend, Bob Willits, and the club pro Stan Thirsk.
By 14 he won the Kansas City Match Play. “It’s still my most cherished win,” Watson says. “It gave a young kid the dream he could be pretty good.”
The next year he played an exhibition with Arnold Palmer. “I tied him with 34 on the front side,” Watson remembers. “But he ended up with 68 and I shot 74.”
The following year on a cold day at Topeka Country Club he teed it up with Jack Nicklaus. “I saw him hit the high, soft cut and went right to work on a more upright swing with Mr. Thirsk.”
After attending Stanford, he turned pro and cashed his first check in 1971 for $1,032. “Man, this is the life,” he thought.
He could play, but admits he “didn’t know how to win.”
Watson was in great position to win at the U.S. Open in 1974 at Winged Foot, leading after three rounds. But he crashed with a Sunday 79. Dejected, he sat in the locker room.
“Tom, could I speak with you for 5 minutes?” asked a gentleman from Texas.
“Sure,” said Tom.
“Tom, I like the way you handled yourself,” the man explained. “You played a great round on Saturday. I think I can help you. If you’d like, you can come to my ranch in Roanoke.”
That’s how Byron Nelson became Tom Watson’s mentor.
“A finer man you will never meet,” says Watson. “I spent a lot of time with him. He believed in me.”
His three consecutive victories at the Byron Nelson in the late ‘70s don’t carry the historical weight of his eight majors, but they’re cherished victories, certainly.
Watson’s playing the Senior PGA Championship in Ohio this week, and plans to compete until he’s 70. “I still love to make the shot when it counts,” he says. “It’s the fundamental reason I’m out here.”
As this season moves toward July and the return of the British Open to Turnberry, Watson will no doubt recount for the press his “duel in the sun” with Jack, their Ali-Frazier encounter of 1977. On that blazing, dusty weekend Jack shot 65-66. Tom won with 65-65.
We discuss the clash, and there will be more on that at the appropriate time. I was curious about another matter.
Do you consider Tiger the greatest player of all time?
“I do,” he says. “And that’s Jack’s perspective too.”
“I was playing a round with Jack in the last couple years and said to him, ‘Jack, he’s the best, isn’t he?’ and Jack said, ‘Yeah, he is.’ “
“I actually felt a little embarrassed and then said ‘Jack, you weren’t too bad’ and with a smile he said, ‘I was pretty good.’”
Now Watson is emphatic. “Look, Tiger has dominated the pro game like no one’s ever done. Dominated it. He hasn’t broken the records yet but I fully expect him to.”
Did Jack face tougher competition?
“I don’t go there,” he says flatly.
“Phil’s won 36 times, Vijay nearly as much and Tiger’s taken ‘em all on and beaten the daylights out of ‘em. Come on. These guys are good.”
We talk for a bit about the enormous money in professional golf these days and it strikes a nerve with Watson.
“Money corrupts desire,” he says. “It corrupts passion. It takes a special person to ignore the money.”
“Losing to Tiger, to the best ever, you’re still making $500,000 and you might think that’s OK.”
“It was never OK with me.”
Byron Nelson surely knew that when he approached Tom Watson in that locker room at Winged Foot in 1974.
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  • If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

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    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

    Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

    This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

    “I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

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    Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

    In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

    If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

    “He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

    Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

    By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

    Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

    ''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

    The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

    The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    ''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

    ''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

    First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

    Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

    ''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

    ''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''