From the archive: Tom Watson wins The Open, 1980

Tom Watson holds the Claret Jug after winning the Open by four shots
Tom Watson holds the Claret Jug after winning the Open by four shots
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OVER the course he had sworn to woo and wed, and still very much in love with her despite the rape of Saturday, when Isao Aoki matched the lowest round in the long history of the championship, Tom Watson at Muirfield yesterday won the Open for the third time in five years.

The Scotsman
Monday, July 21, 1980

Only Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus of his compatriots have won the Open as often. As with Nicklaus, Watson’s wins have all been in Scotland but, unlike Nicklaus, each time on a different course.

His 13-under par aggregate of 271 after his closing 69 was three shots outside the championship record he himself set at Turnberry in 1977, but it left him four strokes clear of the pursuit, headed by Lee Trevino. “The greatest player in the word, right now,” opined Trevino of the man who beat him.

Afterwards Watson was to tell of how he had woken at eight, then slept fitfully for another three hours, dreaming always of golf. “I was playing up a narrow corridor,” he said, which, you may think, is a nice example of what that first hole does to people.

When he finally got up he was “nervous but ready to go, just as I like to be.” But though to others he might have seemed to have the championship won much earlier, he had never really felt comfortable, that the title was his, until he had safely hit the green of the short 16th when already standing 13 under par with Trevino in at nine under.

At the first, he saved his 4 with a running chip executed, let it be noted, with a four-iron. He dropped a shot at the third and then missed chances at the fifth and sixth, the latter bringing from him a hard stare at the gallery. “Someone cheered when my putt failed. I thought for a moment I was back in the Ryder Cup.”

Whereupon he played the three holes from the seventh in 2, 3, 4 against the card of 3, 4, 5 reading unerringly the two-and-a-half-foot break on his 18-footer at the par 3 to trigger that salvo.

Into the wind on a tousled afternoon of sullen grey skies, he was short in two at the 475-yard tenth and took five. But then at the 11th, he struck, as he himself was to endorse, his shot of the championship, a five-iron which bored a hole in the wind to finish four feet behind the hole. A 3 at the par 4 12th followed. He did bunker his tee shot to the short 13th, still his favourite hole on the links, at the cost of a shot, but thereafter he marched to victory hand in hand with the course and her par.

The ovation he received as he made his way into the amphitheatre of the last green moved him greatly.

“Winning in Scotland is a different feeling to all my wins elesewhere. I am a sentimentalist and something of a traditionalist, and this, after all, is the birthplace of the game. And one cannot but think of the champions whose footsteps you are following in on a course like Muirfield.”

A golfer since the age of six, Watson has played in competitions since he was nine, winning the Missouri State championship as an amateur a handful of times in his teens. Nevertheless, in his High School days he was very much an all-rounder, playing as a guard on the basketball team and in the football team as a quarter-back.

Nor was that the extent of his sporting activities. On that likeable freckled countenance is a thin scar dating back to the day he attempted a complax high dive and hit the water with such a smack his teeth were driven through his skin.

A psychology graduate of the University of Stanford, Watson has, of course, led the US money-winners’ list three years in a row and is shaping to do so yet again. At Muirfield Village in the Memorial, he joined Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino in having won more than two milion dollars on the tour.

As Byron Nelson, the father figure in his career, retiterated so often in Ohio earlier this season, Watson has, above all, the desire, “the necessary dream of greatness.” He will practise relentlessly but never pointlessly. At Muirfield Village they still tell of how he had missed a five-footer on the last green and, though ill all that day, at once repaired to the putting green to practise that same putt over and over again. No fewer than 113 times by the general count.

Trevino understandably saw the last three holes on Friday and the last yesterday as the stretch in which he lost the championship: four consecutive bogeys. In the third round in 1972, having holed from a bunker at the sixteenth and chipped in from behind the green at the 18th, he had closed with three straight birdies and on Saturday night he ruefully reflected that Muirfield had certainly got her own back.

Ken Brown, whom Trevino rates good enough to win in America – “I like the way he cuts the ball, he has the finesse, he’s a fine putter” – subsided to a 76. He declared that he had played “lousily” but, on reflection may come to view the championship as whole, see it as proof of a marked advance.

Trevino despairs of British golfers, so many of whom seem to him to have the ability but simply accept once the Americans appear the Open is a lost cause.

Brown, I’m afraid can have done little to reassure him for though I suspect that he was privately determined to play his heart out, he insisted after the third round that he had even less chance than at halfway because now it was Tom Watson who was out in front of him and four strokes clear at that.

Reminded by an American voice that Tom Watson had had quite a lot of bad last rounds, Brown’s only reaction was a terse: “I’ve had more.”

The dark blade of that trusty old hickory-shafted putter of his is discoloured on the sweet spot, proof of his reptitive striking on the green. His short game in the third round bordered on the black arts. “Fantastic, simply unbelievable,” said Trevino of the shot Brown conjured out of the deep rough at the short 13th with very little green on which to work. “Damn it, he even got spin on it.”

Questioned on the slowness of Brown’s play, Watson agreed that he was no whippet but he had no complaints. “In fact, I enjoyed playing with him.”

The leading Briton was England’s Carl Mason, who ended joint fourth with Jack Nicklaus, who thereby maintained his superb record of having only once finished out of the top six since he came so close to winning at Lytham in 1963.

l Muirfield failed to break the record for crowds at an Open Championship. A total of 133,670 watched the event during the week – 831 less than at Royal Lytham and St Annes a year ago. The attendance yesterday was 25,833.