Watson was never cuddly; he was just that good

By Joe PosnanskiApril 9, 2016, 12:39 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tom Watson was always the hard one to love. Arnie was chummier. Jack was more majestic. Gary was more enthusiastic. Lee was funnier. Ben was warmer.

And Tom Watson? Tom was the intense one. The grinder. Lee Trevino remembered seeing him back in the day hitting golf balls out of a bunker on pro-am day. “Who is that kid?” he asked his caddie. When told the name, Trevino shrugged and went about his day. After finishing his round, five hours later, Trevino was walking by the same bunker. Tom Watson was still in it, practicing shots.

Watson didn’t play golf. He worked it. He slaved at it. He was not a phenom like so many of the other greats of the game. Nobody knew his name when he made it to the PGA Tour. He had never won a major amateur tournament. He was not even an All-American at Stanford.

He showed up on the PGA Tour having made only a promise to himself and to his father’s friends who sponsored him: He would work harder than anybody.

He looked like Huck Finn in his younger days – sportswriters could not avoid the comparison – but there was nothing light or mischievous about him. He guarded his privacy. He played as if in a tunnel. He rarely joked. When he blew a few leads early in his career, he readily admitted that he had choked.

“Who is your biggest threat?” reporters asked him in 1977 as he entered the final day of the Masters with the lead.

“Myself,” Watson said.

He buried his emotions. That was at the heart of his greatness. When other golfers withered in the wind or complained about the rain, Watson thrived. When his great rival Jack Nicklaus seemed to have him beat, Watson found something more in himself. He would not let feelings – fear, disgust, rage, jitters – hold him back. Nobody in the history of the game hit more good shots after bad ones. When he found his ball in trouble, he would look at his caddie Bruce Edwards, smile his hard smile, and say, “Watch what I do with this!” Excuses were for losers.


Masters Tournament: Day 2 Tracker

Masters Tournament: Articles, photos and videos


No, Watson has never been too comfortable dealing with earnest emotions. In 2009, when there was an outpouring of love for him after he almost won the Open Championship at age 59 – it would have been the greatest victory in the history of the sport – he had a hard time processing it. He heard fom people from all over the world who said that he had inspired them to feel younger, to believe in the impossible. He was thankful for all those sentiments, but he did not quite know how to process them.

“Didn’t all those letters make you appreciate what you had done?” I asked him once.

“What did I do?” he said. “I lost. That’s all I did.”

That’s Tom Watson – a show-me Missourian who does not deal in the touchy or the feely. Friday, he played his last round of golf at the Masters – his last competitive round of golf with the younger players – and the outpouring of emotion was there. Everyone stood. Everyone applauded. Everyone cheered. Everyone yelled, “Thank you Tom!” It was touching because goodbyes to sports legends are always touching.

Thing is, all the while, Watson was trying desperately to make the cut. Even at the 16th hole, he still had a chance to make it – and that’s where his head was. When he missed the putt there, he started to realize it might not happen. When he missed a birdie putt at 17, he knew then. And so he walked up the 18th fairway for the last time, and what were his emotions?

“I thought, 'I’m glad I don’t have to play that hole again,'” he said. “'I’m glad I do not have to hit 5-irons and 3-woods out there. I just can’t hit it far enough to compete.'”

Well, surely, those weren’t his only emotions, and he admitted feeling some tears build up as he turned to his caddie and friend Neil Oxman. But it was just that: An admission. To the very end, Watson had a hard time embracing the love. It’s his nature.

I’ve known Tom for 20-plus years. I wrote a book about him. I have followed him round after round, from St. Andrews to Pebble Beach. I have talked with him for countless hours about countless things – fathers, children, politics, journalism, what really matters in life.

And through it all, I never saw the emotions get to him.

Until Friday.

“I’m just a golfer,” he began. “I just go out and try my damndest to play the best golf I possibly can every time I’m on the golf course when I’m in competition. It wasn’t a walk at all. I didn’t feel like it was a final walk until the last couple of holes because I still had a shot at it. And that’s just me. That’s just me.

“I feel very …” he said, and he stopped to compose himself. Tears filled his eyes. He sat there for a long time until he felt like he could speak again. “I just feel very blessed that they feel that way about me. I hope that over my career I’ve been able to show the crowd, show them some great golf.”

This is Watson at his rawest. He does not often speak personally. It’s nobody business. Except …

“When I was a kid,” he said, “I was a shy kid. One of the ways I expressed myself was to hit a golf shot.”

Yes. Of course. He was talking to the crowd with those shots. He never felt like he could crack jokes like Trevino or inspire a gallery like Palmer. But he could, at his best, hit great golf shots, the sort that would leave people awed and wondering, “How did he do that?” That was how he showed his love for people. And that’s why, in the end, they loved him back.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.


Getty Images

Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

Getty Images

After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

Getty Images

Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.