TIMONIUM, Md. – Even if Tom Watson won the British Open, it’s hard to imagine his life would be much better than it is right now.
Watson skipped the past couple weeks on the Champions Tour to work on an instructional DVD and book. Sales should be rather brisk because of his performance last July at Turnberry, when he came tantalizingly close to becoming the oldest player to win a major on the PGA Tour.
“This DVD was planned in March of this year. It didn’t have anything to do with the British,” Watson said Wednesday before quickly adding, “Oh, by the way, it will help. The timing is pretty darn good.”
Now 60, Watson still gets a thrill out of playing in major tournaments. He’s sure to be a crowd favorite at the Senior Players Championship, which starts Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Baltimore Country Club.
“This is a favorite course of mine,” said Watson, who finished second here in 2007. He didn’t participate last year because he was getting left hip-replacement surgery, an operation that changed his way of life.
“I rode a horse at a parade last Saturday,” he said. “Last year, I couldn’t spread my legs wide enough to get on the back of a horse. Now, man, I can ride a fat horse, no problem. That’s the difference between this year and last year.”
That is not the only difference. Even though he lost a playoff to Stewart Cink in the British Open, Watson has been the recipient of an outpouring of love from around the world.
“The response has been humbling, it’s been overwhelming. It’s a response that I would have never foreseen for a guy finishing second in a golf tournament,” he said. “The theme has been, ‘You’ve given me hope. You’ve given me a second charge in my life. You’re 60 years old and still doing this? Maybe I can still do what I thought I couldn’t do anymore.’ It’s kind of the wonderful theme that’s come out of this thing.”
Fred Funk, one-third of a stellar threesome with Watson and Nick Price on Thursday, won’t soon forget Watson’s unexpected brush with history.
“Almost everyone wanted Tom to win that thing, and he did everything he could,” Funk said. “Had he won, that would have been one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sports accomplishments ever.”
This tournament, the fifth major on the Champions Tour, could come down to duel between Funk and Watson. Funk has finished in the Top 5 in each of the previous four majors this year, and Watson has three top-10 finishes in those events.
Funk is the Tour leader in Schwab Cup points and finished third and second in the past two years at this course. But he has been struggling lately, in part because he’s trying to recover from a staph infection in his knee.
He paid to have his teacher come in from Wisconsin to help him perfect his swing.
“Last week, I don’t know what it was, but my whole game just went in the toilet,” said Funk, referring to his 18th-place finish in the SAS Championship. “I’m a little concerned about where I am right now, and I want to get it fixed.”
Perhaps he can have a revelation similar to the one Watson experienced 15 years ago.
“I learned how to swing the golf club on the practice tee at Hilton Head at 3:15 in the afternoon after a practice round at the 1994 Heritage Golf Classic,” Watson said. “I made that change, and the golf swing got easy for me.”
Funk grew up in Maryland and coached at the University of Maryland in the 1980s, so winning here is clearly a priority.
“This is big. Not only the significance it has for the Schwab Cup and having a major under your belt, but it’s my home state,” he said. “I get so much support here, I would love to put something of this much significance on my resume.”
He expects his threesome to draw the biggest gallery – by far.
“That’s a pretty strong group right there,” he said. “Whoever’s here is probably going to be following our group. Hopefully I play well.”
The tournament is sponsored by Constellation Energy.