Monday, October 6, 2008

Golf Legends - Tom Watson

Image Courtesy: BBC

Each time Tom Watson stepped on one of the link courses for the Open Championship, it would be fair to say, love was in the air. Such was the dominance of this great American golfer who produced some of his best golf in some of the most difficult conditions endured by golfers on the course. Not for nothing was he known as the best golfer in terrible conditions, although I am not quite sure how delighted he was with that monicker being associated with him but it was still a shade better than being called Huckleberry Dillinger.

Tom Watson was not your usual Golfer. In fact with a degree in Psychology from Stanford University he was anything but the usual golfer. Shortly after his graduation from Stanford, Tom Watson turned pro but his first few years did not yield much success. Despite his degree in psychology what seemed to fail Tom Watson was his ability to close out tournaments. After another one of his meltdowns in a tournament, the great Byron Nelson approached him and offered his assistance. That was the fillip that Tom Watson needed and his career was up and running. Under Byron Nelson’s guidance he transformed himself from an ‘almost there’ golfer to a complete golfer adding victories to his kitty.

With the new found streak of mental strength Watson began his quest for tournament wins which finally ended with 39 victories on the PGA Tour. He built up a reputation as a scrambler which led to the term ’Watson Par’. It clearly represented the frustration and amazement experienced by other golfers who would see Tom Watson launch wild shots, find himself left with an improbable putt for par and see the ball being drained into the hole time and again. But the enduring legacy that Tom Watson left was his incredible dominance of the Open Championship, winning it as many as 5 times. Any discussion of Tom Watson would be incomplete without a mention of the most famous ‘Duel in the Sun’. Golf folklore is full of stories of that day in Turneberry, of the burning sun, sunburnt fairways, blustering wind and that duel between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson which was perhaps the greatest between two people over the course of a championship in Golf.

But that was not the only time Jack Nicklaus was pipped to the post by Watson. He did it again in dramatic fashion in Pebble Beach at the 1982 U.S. Open, chipping in an improbable shot from thick rough to birdie a hole that had Bogey stamped through the length and breadth of that 17th green, leaving Jack Nicklaus distraught once again. Through the course of his career,

Tom Watson proved to be Jack Nicklaus’ greatest nemesis. In 5 of Tom Watson’s 8 major wins, it was Jack Nicklaus who finished second. But as fierce as their competition was, what will also be remembered is their great friendship and that remarkable moment of sportsmanship when Jack Nicklaus gave Watson a ‘Bearhug’ after they completed their ‘Duel in the Sun’. What embodied Tom Watson’s love for the game could be captured in that one line in the heat of the moment during the 1977 Open Championship when he looked over at Jack Nicklaus in the middle of their incredible fight and said-:

“This is what sports is about, isn’t it?”


sceptic said...

oh have stuff out here! it's going to take some reading..and i'd thought i was a golf intimidated :P

fungus said...

wow, u put in a lot of effort. me impressed.