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Tom Watson British Open Press Conference Transcript

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STEWART McDOUGAL: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Tom Watson to the interview area. Tom, it is now 22 years since you won the Open title. How does it feel to be back?
 
TOM WATSON: The ball isn't going as far. I can tell you that. The golf course hasn't changed very much at all. It's just the golf course is the same as it was 22 years ago with the exception it's very soft right now. A couple of tees have been moved back, No. 4 and No. 13. It essentially plays the same.
 
When I won in 1980, the fairways were very hard, golf course was running, it was a hard, firm golf course. So we're going to play in very easy conditions as far as the firmness of the golf course is concerned. I feel the fairways were generous this year, particularly No. 8. The 8th is a lot wider than it was the last few times I've played it. And the greens will firm up, I'm sure, with the winds that are predicted for the rest of the week. And once you have the winds, anything can happen, but it's not a driver's golf course. You don't hit a driver very often on the golf course, to keep it in play, with wind that is, with some firm winds if you have it from the southwest, you will be hitting drivers more than you do with no wind.
 
It's a fine golf course. It's one of my favorite on the rotation simply because it has a lot of varieties because of the direction the holes play around the golf course. You play clockwise, you play counterclockwise coming in and you get really the full effects of the winds, the different directions and it really is one of my favorite links courses over here.
 
Q. Tom, you say that the golf course has hardly changed in 22 years, golf has changed a great deal. Can you talk about how golf has changed in comparison to the golf course?
 
TOM WATSON: Golf has changed, you talk about the equipment, the golf ball goes farther, straighter and the wind has less effect on it, and that makes it easier to play.
 
This golf course will play -- well, as I played it in 1980, the golf course played with very few drivers as well. I played very few drivers, with the exception of the opening round when it really blew. The opening round was my best round ever in an Open over here, 68, tied with Trevino. I can't remember what our position was, but I think we were almost three shots clear of third place, which was 71, something in that regard. Maybe there was a 70 and 71, but we were clear ahead of the field so we got off to a great start. That's the way a golf course can play when it's firm and the wind blows 20, 30 miles an hour and that's the links golf. It's one of my favorites.
 
Q. Given the current trend to make golf courses longer and longer, are you pleased to come back here and see only the two changes?
 
TOM WATSON: You have to give credit to the R&A for not going to far back on the golf course. Let's see how the golf course fares. I hear the members already starting to complain a little bit, worry a little bit about their golf course that it is going to be -- it's going to yield a lot of low scores and it very well could. In 1980, the third round, I shot a 64, there was a 63, I think at least two 65s, and a myriad of scores in the 60s, but there was no wind. The wind just died and the golf course had some rain the night before. It was playing pretty soft. That particular day it firmed up, as it can do here, and that -- but the golf course can yield some low scores.
 
Q. Do you think that should be allowed to happen here, it's the weather you shouldn't worry about --
 
TOM WATSON: I'm a big believer in the weather. I also believe that the narrowing the fairways is the equalizer. I was kind of surprised how wide some of the fairways were here compared to what I've seen before. No. Eight in particular, I felt it was a tough driving hole; now it's pretty wide. And I was kind of surprised with that one. 1 and 10, if you've been out on the golf course, one is the toughest opening hole in Open golf, I think. It really plays tough, because the fairway is very narrow and the rough is unplayable. You can't find your ball in the rough, so your first chore is you better put the ball in the fairway.
 
Q. Can you talk about your preparation in coming here?
 
TOM WATSON: I went and played in the southwest of England this year. I have a friend who is the secretary of St. Enodoc. He is a yank. A good friend from high school days. He invited me over to play. I thoroughly enjoyed the golf course. We played Westward Ho with the sheep and the horses. This is the first year they've had mowed fairways, apparently, the grazers would not allow the fairways to be mown there, simply because their sheep and horses needed more fodder, but this year they made a deal, 2,500 bucks, mow the fairways, so we played mown fairways at Westward Ho. We played on a beautiful day, and St. Enodoc was a very good golf course, a short distance but you have to -- it plays long. It's a good golf course.
 
Q. Tom, given this course does take the driver out of your hand, does that put you sort of on equal footing?
 
TOM WATSON: It does. It actually helps me. There's not a question it helps me because it equalizes the length. When you talk about trying to make a golf course which equalizes the whole field you have to shorten it, you have to make it a short golf course so everybody is playing shorter shots to the greens.
 
Q. Any kind of confidence with, hey, I can be a contender in this one?
 
TOM WATSON: I came in with high hopes of contending, doing well. I think I can play this golf course well. I remember a lot of the pitfalls of the golf course, which there are many, and tried to study those the last two days in the practice rounds and it really depends on certain things. You have to play No. 1 well. You have to play No. 10 well. You have to play No. 6 well. Those are the three critical holes that you have to play well. You have to put the ball in the fairway in 9 so you can get on the green in two, for a birdie or an eagle. Those are kind of in the order in which my priorities are thinking and how I judge, how I play this golf course. I'm sure that holds true with everybody else who's playing the golf course too.
 
Q. There was a theory, Tom, that they lengthened golf courses for Tiger. The R&A are the only ones of the four majors this year who are not lengthening the course significantly. Is this the way to Tiger-proof it? It's a bit like the question you were asked earlier?
 
TOM WATSON: It's not a question, the golf course at Bethpage was right up Tiger's alley because it only favored about six golfers because of the length factor, the holes at 10, 12, 15. The USGA made a huge mistake there. No. 10 was a huge mistake. 12 was a huge mistake, and the way it was designed and set up the rough and the fairways there. It only favored people who could hit the ball 300 yards. You don't do that. You favor accuracy. It's always been the same. You favor accuracy. Left to right, you penalize left to right, you don't penalize straight very often, you don't penalize straight. They penalized straight there.
 
Q. Where do you stand on the coming argument about whether or not the challengers are making a strong enough attempt to dislodge Tiger. There is the Nicklaus line that maybe players are not giving him enough competition.
 
TOM WATSON: I go back to what Lee Trevino said. I said this a couple of days ago to the Scottish press. I said very simply, Trevino said, every great player has always had an Achilles heel, Tiger seems to have none. All the players who contend all have Achilles heel, like every great player in the past, but Tiger seems to have none.
 
Q. Have you heard any reactions from the younger guys about what Nicklaus and Trevino have said about them, their lack of competition with Tiger. Have you gotten any feedback?
 
TOM WATSON: I've gotten no feedback.
 
Q. Would you have liked to have taken him on in your prime?
 
TOM WATSON: Of course I would.
 
Q. 22 years ago?
 
TOM WATSON: Sure. But I had an Achilles heels. I couldn't hit it very straight. I had to make putts and pars to win.
 
Q. When you were starting, when you had to go against Nicklaus, was it an imposing feeling or was it I can go out and handle this guy sooner or later?
 
TOM WATSON: It wasn't either. I had great respect for Nicklaus, but I knew that -- I've always gone out to play the golf course, and play shots on the golf course, and it's a boring comment, but you let the chips fall where they may, and when you are playing against Nicklaus at Turnberry was very -- was the ultimate because I was playing against the best player in the world and that's where I wanted to be. Getting behind was not that big a deal because you're supposed to be behind, but coming back and then coming back again, and then eventually winning, that was something -- that particular tournament really made me think I could play with the best in the world after that year, 1977, so it was an evolutionary process with me. Tiger came on the tour thinking he could win every tournament he played. And he made significant changes in his golf swing with Butch and made his swing really a lot better. Took his strengths and made them stronger; took his Achilles heel away and now you have got a tough guy there to play against.
 
Q. Are you implying that Tiger may well indeed be the most -- (inaudible)?
 
TOM WATSON: I am implying that, sure.
 
Q. There seems to be great debates going on with generations, some players seem reluctant to concede that...
 
TOM WATSON: You can't concede it yet, but you have to obviously make the comparisons now. I told you -- I told the press, you better get on this bandwagon four or five years ago, when Tiger started this thing, you better get on this bandwagon real quick because this guy may be the best player who has ever played the game, as my caddy says, he's making it boring, who else is winning? Nobody. In a sense that makes it boring, but on the other hand, what an era to be in. Look at the sport, you see -- see Lance Armstrong from the states, see the Williams sisters in tennis, look at Tiger Woods. You're looking at a time in the sport which is really significant, truly significant. Obviously you're always writing angles, it's just finding out what am a going to write about Tiger today is hard, I'm sure. But it's a bandwagon. This kid, he's really really good.
 
Q. I seem to recall your thinking about Jack Nicklaus changed -- it was said anyway your thinking changed during The Masters in '77, and that led to Turnberry?
 
TOM WATSON: I don't believe so. I think I've always -- I watched Jack play, I wanted to emulate Jack. I watched him -- when I played with him, I watched intently how he dissected the golf course. I say dissected - it's a very accurate term, because he did dissect it. He said this is one place I don't want to be, this is where I want to be. The pin is here, I want to hit it here. I'm go to lay up short to get in this position here, but when he had to turn it on, he could turn it on. So he had power in reserve. That's what you see about Tiger. He has power in reserve. He claims, and rightfully so, he doesn't swing that hard at it, although he had to swing hard at Bethpage on a few holes because that blended right into his power. He had to hit it hard for him to hit it clear of the trouble, where everybody else couldn't get beyond the trouble because of the set up of the golf course was.
 
Q. Tell me at what point do we or whoever proclaim him, winning a Grand Slam, does that make him the best player ever? Does he have to beat Nicklaus's record?
 
TOM WATSON: He has to have that 19th major victory and more victories, sure.
 
Q. You don't think winning a Grand Slam puts him in that position?
 
TOM WATSON: Well, you put it there. I think you have to look at the longevity of the person. I think you all recognize that. That's the way you have to do it, so you have to look at it in terms of the entire career, and I think you've always done that. You, being -- you can take people like Johnny Miller who was just great for a year or a couple of years, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, I don't put myself in that because Arnold won 67 tournaments, but he had about a seven year span, Arnold Palmer. He really played well. But when he didn't play well, he never broke an egg after that. But the longevity, Sam Snead, Hogan, he won late in his life. He had a long career. Too bad Byron Nelson didn't continue to play. He told me very simply he was the very player 10 years after he retired than he was when he retired. He was a marvelous player.
 
Q. You said your caddy used the word boring. Would you use the word boring?
 
TOM WATSON: No. I think it's fantastic what Tiger is doing. He's doing something that nobody else has done before, winning major championships like they're club medal, your weekly stablefords.
 
Q. What climax should Tiger have that would suggest that he has the potential to be the best player, compared to Jack Nicklaus (inaudible)?
 
TOM WATSON: I think if you look at Jack, I think his only shortcoming was his short game, I think. He was a wonderful putter. When he had to make a putt, he made the putt. I don't think anybody has ever been better at that, but his play around the greens was not the best. Tiger, that dimension is right up there amongst the best out here, if not the best, his short game around the greens games, wonderful. So I think if you compare the two, they're very similar with the exception of that one little Achille's heel that Jack has, or had.
 
Q. What would you do when you were 25, to dislodge this guy? How would you dent it?
 
TOM WATSON: I would do what the rest of the kids are doing out here, working out, trying to get stronger. Just like I did when I came on the tour, I looked at the best. I was told very simply, when I turned professional, it wasn't rocket science, but I did go around and ask all the local professionals with whom I played, I said what one thing will help me, and they all said, every one of them, when I asked that one question, they said watch the best players out there, always watch and play with the best players. I did that with Jack, if I had the chance to play with Jack or watch Sam Snead swing a golf club, those were the two I really watched. I watched the other players, but the great players, I tried to emulate them, and that's what the kids are doing now, emulating what Tiger is doing, working out, getting stronger, flexibility.
 
Q. Has Mickelson or anybody asked you about Muirfield?
 
TOM WATSON: No.
 
Q. Do you think they should?
 
TOM WATSON: I don't know. Why would they want to ask me?
 
Q. Because you know your way around here. You won here. You just said --
 
TOM WATSON: I forgot most of the things around here. I had to relearn them the last two days.
 
Q. Can I remind you of one of the things in 1980? Do you have any embarrassment that Crenshaw got caught (inaudible)?
 
TOM WATSON: The only reason Crenshaw got caught was his wife Polly at the time was wearing high heels aerifying the 18th green with high heels. Any self-respecting secretary of the club would see that as maybe not the right thing to be doing after the Open Championship, albeit the greens might be firm.
 
Q. (Inaudible)?
 
TOM WATSON: You never know, it might happen. That was fun. That was a nice event. For two holes. That was fun.
 
Q. Go back to what you said about Bethpage (inaudible)?
 
TOM WATSON: You know, I think you have to deal with the wind. Bethpage got out of hand on Friday with the wind, Bob Murphy who was NBC commentator said he watched 15 straight people not be able to reach the 10th fairway. 15 straight. Now, that's inexcusable. That's unfair. That's not right. You've only six guys who could get to the fairway. That's not right. I said you concentrate on accuracy. You don't make it a distance game. They didn't have to do it there, and they did it and it was wrong. And I applaud -- again, let the wind decide how the golf course is going to play, as it always does on links golf courses. Turn that water off. Mother Nature has already turned the water on too much. Members right now are saying, are the players going to shoot up the golf course. Yes, they are. If we had a day like today, the scores would be very low out there, but you add 20 miles an hour wind, they're not going to be low. The prediction with the winds, you're not going to have four days of calm weather like this, you're not, but if you do, the scores will be very low. A true golfer understands that.
 
Yeah, the course is there for the taking, but it's all relative. If everybody is shooting 67, 65, 68, you had better shoot 67, 65, 68. If you shoot 71, sometimes I did, I would say I shot 3 over par today. That first round in 1980 when I came off the golf course, I shot 6 under, even though I was 3 under. The average score that day was in the neighborhood of 77. So I was well under par. So it's all relative.