TOM Watson, facing his farewell appearance in the Open Championship at Hoylake in 12 months’ time, was given five-star treatment during his first visit to Gleneagles in the build-up to next year’s Ryder Cup – until he asked about pin positions for the PGA Centenary Course.
“I was up there [on Monday] going around with a couple of people from the golf course,” he said of a trip to the Perthshire resort in the company of his newly appointed vice-captain, Andy North, to primarily look at logistics in the countdown to the biennial clash.
“I said, ‘you wouldn’t mind getting me the pins for the Johnnie Walker Championship for the last five years, would you?’ They said, ‘yes, we would mind, so you’re not getting them! It was funny’.”
It was also a good try by Watson, who has been tasked with the job of leading the Americans in their bid for a first win on European soil since 1993, when he was also at the helm at the Belfry, and improving on a dismal record of seven losses in the past nine biennial bouts.
Despite that knockback, he admitted the visit en route from Muirfield to Southport had been productive, as was a dinner date with his European counterpart, Paul McGinley, on the eve of last week’s Open Championship.
“The greens are in very good shape, but they’ve been pouring sand into the fairways – 5,000 tonnes and more on the way before the Ryder Cup,” added the five-time Open champion. “There are some very challenging holes on the course, but I feel there are a lot of holes that you can make birdies on.
“Having said that, you’ve got the Ryder Cup pressure to take into account and also the wind and weather that can happen in September there. I also had a good dinner with Paul McGinley last Monday and we are on the same page about the way the matches will be played. The spirit of the matches is obviously going to be competitive, but there will also be a fairness.
“I kidded Paul about his team having an advantage due to the Johnnie Walker Championship being played at Gleneagles for a number of years but he just kind of smiled and said, ‘well, it is a home match, you know’. Paul is a fine man and I like his company. I like the way he handles himself. He knows what the Ryder Cup is all about, like I do. I hope that we have a good match – and I hope the outcome is a little different this time.”
Watson, who has already completed Open-Senior Open doubles at both Muirfield and Turnberry, would be happy this weekend with a repeat win at Royal Birkdale, where he lifted the last of those five Claret Jugs 30 years ago.
“I hit two consecutive shots at the 18th in 1983 that I will always remember,” said the 63-year-old, recalling his one-shot triumph over two fellow Americans, Hale Irwin and Andy Bean. “The first was a solid cut driver followed by the best 2-iron I’ve ever hit. It will live in my memory as one of the shots in my career that I’m most proud of.”