Tom Watson relives his memories of Turnberry
A PLAQUE may have been fitting to mark the shot he hit from the 18th fairway to win his famous Duel in the Sun with Jack Nicklaus in 1977, but a statue would surely have been in order if Turnberry had been honouring the last competitive blow struck in regulation play on that hole by Tom Watson.
By the great man’s own admission, the 8-iron he hit that day in 2009 was every bit as good as the 7-iron 35 years ago that is now ingrained in the turf after an informal ceremony that, appropriately, took place on one of the sunniest days of a dismal summer.
But, while one shot finished close to the hole and earned him the second of five Open Championship successes, the other landed about a foot further than he would liked as it ran through the back of the green and, effectively, cost him a sixth Claret Jug at the age of 59.
“Honestly, when the ball was coming down, I said ‘77’,” recalled Watson yesterday of an outcome that broke his heart at the time as well as the thousands lining the fairway on the closing hole on the Ailsa Course. “I just looked at it and said, ‘this is just like ’77’. That’s the thought I had.
“But, with the strong wind behind, I said, okay, just stop, just stop. And it didn’t. It was from 189 yards – a longer shot than ’77, but I played one club shorter. Some say I should have hit a 9-iron.”
Losing out to Stewart Cink, who won the subsequent four-hole play-off, hurt like hell at the time, but Watson insists the pain has long subsided and he has returned to the Ayrshire course with a spring in his step for this week’s $2 million Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex.
“It’s non-existent,” he said in reply to being asked if his heart still ached. “It was bad the night of the event, when I only got two hours’ sleep. But I woke up the next day and got right back on the horse again by going out and playing a practice round for the Senior British Open at Sunningdale.
“That’s what you look for in a player. After you have a difficult one like that, you need to recover quickly. That’s what Rory McIlroy did [after blowing the Masters last year then going out and winning the US Open] and that’s what I hope Adam Scott does [after squandering a four-shot lead in the Open Championship on Sunday].”
Watson described yesterday’s plaque unveiling as a “special moment and a special day”. He reminisced about his memorable battle with Jack Nicklaus and admitted it had been a defining moment in his career to beat “the greatest player in the world”. Just as enjoyable, however, was another contest he had with Nicklaus at Turnberry, one that could probably be tagged as the Duel in the Dark.
“When Nick Price won [in 1994], Jack calls me in my room and says, ‘come down for dinner’. I was really depressed because of the way I was hitting the ball so, at first, I got on my pity pot and said ‘no’,” he recalled.
“Then I called him back five minutes later and said, ‘okay, we’ll go for dinner’. After a couple of bottles of wine – it was back in my drinking days and Jack could drink a little bit of wine back then – I said, ‘let’s go play the par-3 course’.
“So we took our respective wives, Barbara [Nicklaus] and Linda [Watson’s first wife], and I went up to my room and got a couple of wedges and we went out and played. When we finished it was pitch dark. I think I had about a five-foot putt on the last and Jack said, ‘you’ll miss that like you’ve missed everything this week, Watson’. He knows how to give the needle the right way.”
Continuing his story, Watson revealed two of the game’s greatest players were almost chased off the course by a security guard. “As we were playing, a security guard came down the main road and he looked very, very serious. I said, ‘Jack, take care of this guy, will ya’.
“He goes, ‘okay’. So he walks up to this guy, who keeps on walking sternly, walking, walking and walking and gets closer to Jack and Jack doesn’t say anything. The guy recognises he’s Jack and he goes, ‘What are you doing here. . . oh, you’re okay’.”
Today Watson will swap that par-3 layout for an Ailsa Course playing at 7,105 yards, which Gary Player, for one, reckons is a tad too long for the over-50s.
“I believe it’s playing longer than the regular Open last week,” said the South African.
Watson, who recorded the first of his three Senior Open title triumphs here in 2003, has Greg Norman and Roger Chapman, bidding to join Player as the only man to complete the senior grand slam, for company in his opening two rounds and is determined to put on a show for the spectators.
“I feel that if I don’t play well, I’m disappointing them,” confessed the 62-year-old. “When I hit bad golf shots, even if I get a wonderful reception, I feel it’s hollow because I haven’t performed my part of the bargain. I like to earn that type of respect from the galleries.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east