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Watson Receives Place in Memorial's Captains Club
One of Tom Watson's chief protagonists in his Hall of Fame career, Jack Nicklaus, honored the Kansas City native Wednesday on the eve of the 2012 Memorial Tournament. Watson is now among 55 other luminaries in the Captains Club.
During the presentation Nicklaus filled with emotion as he recalled the exploits of the eight-time major winner ("a couple at my expense," Nicklaus noted), who also racked up 39 career PGA victories, including in the 1979 and 1996 Memorials.
Nicklaus' voice cracked as he noted that Watson "embodies everything I can want in a friend." The host of the Memorial at Muirfield Village, which starts Thursday in Dublin, Ohio, also expressed amazement at the consistency of Watson's swing, which he first observed during an exhibition in Topeka, Kansas, when Watson was a 15-year-old amateur.
"And if you look at his swing, 47 years later, it hasn't changed," Nicklaus said. "It's a swing that whether you're a junior or a senior, you wish you had the ability to do that."
Also on hand for the ceremony was PGA Tour commissioner and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Kasich noted that, to him, Watson symbolized "eternal youth" and when Watson made a serious run at the 2009 British Open before losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff, that Watson "turned back the hands of time. To me, he's Huckleberry Finn."
After the awards ceremony, Watson met with reporters and discussed his joining the Captains Club. Here's what he had to say.
Q. (About his thoughts on Jack Nicklaus).
TOM WATSON: I was in awe. I was in awe of how solid he is with long irons. Long irons - two guys could hit the long iron probably better than anybody. One was Jack and the other was Byron. That long iron up in the air just straight and soft, that was what I admired most about the way he played his game that day. That was the first time. I think the next time was on Tour - yeah, the next time was on Tour in '71, he didn't see me, but I made mention of the fact out there, I followed him all 18 holes at the Sea Pine Heritage. I think he finished third that year, but I followed him all 18 holes there just to see what it was like, just to see how he played the golf course. That was the beginning of my learning experience from Jack.
TOM WATSON: Well, today, there was definitely going to be some emotion today because there was a lot of water under the bridge, and some of it got dammed up in the form of some tears that we both share for each other. As I said, I had a hard time controlling my emotions when I played with him in 2005 at St. Andrews, playing with him in the final round. I had already played with him in a practice round, and I was bawling like a baby in the practice round coming up 18, playing with him just in the practice round. And that's even when I knew I was going to play with him in the tournament.
No, Jack has always been - he's one of those guys who's been honest with you guys to the point of sometimes being brutally honest, but I think you guys always respected that. That's something that I've always respected about the way he handled himself. You know, if you really look inside of Jack and see him, he's still a kid at heart. He loves to kid, and he loves to be with his family, but he's a kid at heart in a lot of different ways. He loves to play games. He plays a game for a living like I do, but he loves to compete, and he loves to be with people who like to compete. That's one of the many reasons I've enjoyed his company over the years.
Q. What event or what period of time was it when your relationship changed to what it is today?
TOM WATSON: I think it changed pretty much in '77 at Turnberry, and that changed - that was kind of the - that was my watershed year on the Tour because I had had a hard time learning how to win. I was learning how to win basically. I was choking some tournaments away and learning how to deal with the pressure. I had won the British Open and I had won a couple other tournaments, but I had lost a number of tournaments having had the opportunity to win. I stuck in there, and in '77 when it fell twice where I won the Masters and the British Open at Turnberry, after the one at Turnberry, it was - the way I looked at my career is that now I feel confident I can play with the big boys, and I've said that hundreds of times, "play with the big boys," be able to beat them all. And that was my goal from my junior year in college on is to play is to try to achieve that dream. I didn't know whether I would ever get there. I didn't know whether I was going to ever make it on the Tour, from the beginning. I knew I had some strengths. I knew I could hit the ball high, long, could putt the eyes out of it, and the dirty little secret is that I was probably about the best putter out there. I broke a lot of people's hearts with that putter. You have to putt well to win. You just don't putt average to - you can't putt on an average basis. You have to putt better than the rest of the field or in the top 10 to win golf tournaments. You just do.
But those are the years that I learned how to win, and Jack was - he was the guy that I was learning from and also trying to beat. I wanted to see how he played the game. As I said over there, the one valuable lesson I learned is when he won the Hawaiian Open in '74, he hit it everywhere, out of the rough, but he was hitting the ball on the greens from the rough, from that common Bermuda Hawaiian Open rough, he was hitting the ball on the greens and two putting from 60 feet for pars and things like that.
And then along came the 17th hole. The flag is on the back of the green, and he takes a club that's going to come up short. I know it's going to come up short. He can't get a 6 iron there, no way. He hits a shot, and he hits it solid, it lands just past the front of the green, there's a bunker on the right, there's a bunker on the left, he put it in kind of the fat of the green there, it stopped maybe about 20 feet on the green. He had a 50 to 60 foot putt, and that's when I asked him the question, I said, "Why did you hit that shot?" He said, "I can't lose the tournament hitting a 6 iron. I can lose the tournament hitting the 5 iron." Boy, that stuck in my mind. That is knowing your game, knowing how to win. It's not going for the flag when you have a one shot lead. That makes no sense sometimes. That's one of the valuable lessons I learned.
TOM WATSON: Well, you know, I don't care who you are, you pattern yourself - most people pattern themselves after the best player in the game. You come out and you look at them. Today's kids, I don't know whether they do that. They have swings that - they're very similar swings. We tried to pattern ourselves after the guy that swung it, like Jack. I was upright and I drove my legs, the reverse C into the ball like this, hit the ball straight up in the air, hit the ball straight right most of the time (laughter), but that's what I patterned my game after.
The other thing that's kind of funny is that Jack was a good 1 iron player. Weiskopf was awfully good, but Jack was awfully good with the 1 iron, and he ruined more people's games because they had to be like Jack. They had to have a 1 iron rather than the hybrid. When I grew up I had hybrids in my - I had a hybrid in my bag when I was a kid. We had this Wilson 3-wood, had a sole plate. The sole plate was a good - wasn't three quarters of an inch thick, but it was a heavy brass sole plate that you could hit it out of the rough and get it out of the rough. It was beautiful, and it was a hybrid. And I used that until - I wanted to be like Jack, and I had to hit a 1 iron. I could never hit a 1 iron. There was only one guy that could hit it, and it was Jack. You've got to be like Jack, you know. So he ruined a lot of people's games, and maybe that was part of his thought process: I'm the only guy that can hit a 1 iron, everybody is trying to be like me, and good. Actually, I only hit the 1 iron off the tees most of the time, and it helped me at the British Open. I used the 1 iron off the tee a lot over there.
Q. Talk about your thoughts on the U.S. Open coming up.
TOM WATSON: I do remember going into Olympic at '87 and it was kind of like going into the '82 Open when I won, I just hit it terrible. I made an adjustment - I played with Jack in a practice round, and I must have shot 86. I mean, it was awful. And Jack was - he was almost as bad. He was playing terrible, too. So I go to the practice tee that afternoon, and I made an adjustment in my swing, all of a sudden started hitting it kind of solid, trying to get it shut, shut to open, and started hitting the ball straight.
For the next day I did the same thing, and it was all right. I started hitting the ball in the fairway and getting the ball on the greens, and it worked for a little while. And I had my opportunity there, and you look at what luck plays in there. You look at Scott's bladed sand wedge shot out of the bunker, hits the flag and drops down, and that ball most likely would have been off the green. He's chipping for bogey now. He's chipping for par, and he's going to make bogey or worse there rather than a par. But things like that happen. I've been luckier than most. And I think I understand luck, that it's just part - really, it's part of life, part of the game. You've got to accept it. You hit it into a divot, sand filled divot, now you have to hit this little 60 yard sand wedge over water. Well, not a very good break, is it. Nine times out of ten you're going to chunk it in the water from that sandy divot, but that's why you practice that sandy divot and you practice that shot, just in case that happens. That's the way I kind of look at it.
TOM WATSON: Well, what makes this special is the efforts that Jack and the committee has put into this thing to make it the best tournament they possibly can. It always has been - the golf course has always been in great shape. We've played the best conditioned golf course on Tour. This is the standard. This is the standard the other tournaments look at when they look at - this is the way the conditions ought to be. They spoil us. You always have good lies in the fairways. It wasn't like that when I first started out here. When you first started out playing in the '70s, if you had a course like this, it was usually a northeastern course that had a - it was before the hot weather came in and all the poa annua died, and it could be the U.S. Open. You saw really good conditioned fairways, and of course the greens were like concrete, but it was in really good condition. But you rarely got conditioned courses like that. Jack started this in '76, and that was one of the things he demanded is that this course be in the best condition of any course on Tour.
Q. With such pure conditions that you get week in and week out, does that make it harder to separate (inaudible)?
TOM WATSON: No, I don't think so. A lot has been said about can the players maneuver the ball. You're darned right they can maneuver the ball. If they have to they can make the ball go left to right and right to left. They just don't have to that much. Can they hit it out of a bad lie? Sure, they can hit it out of a bad lie. But sometimes they're not faced with a variety of bad lies like we used to have. But that's not taking anything away from their skills.
TOM WATSON: What did I say about the dirty little secret? Jack just putted the eyes out of the hole in that playoff round. I saw pictures of it, and he's - Ben is blowing on his putter. It's hot, like that, at the end there. That's the secret of golf: Make all your putts. You can hit the ball great and hit every fairway, every green, but if you can't make it from six feet, forget it. Look at Luke Donald's putting statistics. Has he not missed inside three feet for 575 putts in a row now? Is that what I heard?
Q. Years in a row.
TOM WATSON: But you guys - have you heard that stat? Yeah, you go back to it, it's a real story. It's a real story. Why is he No.1?
Q. Do you think that's one of the stranger coincidences in golf, about Olympic's history, that the favorite never wins there, Hogan, Arnold, you?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think it's just one of those coincidences that makes sport wonderful. Sport is never - it never consistently fulfills your expectations. It just doesn't. You look at the teams - look at the Jets winning the Super Bowl. Yeah, nobody could beat they can't do that, he's just a braggart. Oh, by the way, they won by 16. That happens in sport all the time. Look at one of the greatest upsets in the history of sport from our country was 1980 in the hockey, in the Olympics, beating the Russians. Man, talk about expectations. Golf is the same way. What's the expectation of this week or a playoff? Look at the record. Anything can happen on a single day or a single hole.
Golf is one of those sports that - one of the reasons people play is that they can play an equal game. When you have a handicap - what's your handicap, 5? You're a 5? I'm a plus 4, I give you nine, we go play, we play for $100 a hole (laughter), right? We can play $100 a hole and have a game if you don't choke. (Laughter.) Anyway, that's the way it works. That's the way it works. This game works that way, and that's why it's a beautiful game. You can't take a guy like Nadal and put him against this guy on the court and give him any type of - give him all points. All he has to do is win one point and he wins the match. It ain't going to happen. It ain't going to happen.
Q. Just curious your thoughts about the great Open you had against Stewart Cink.
TOM WATSON: I read what Stewart had to say. He said, I wasn't playing too well, and that week I kind of caught fire, changed my swing and got there, and that key that I was working on didn't work as well as it did when I played that week. That's the way the game is. Sam Snead, I asked him one time, I said, Do you have a key? He said, Darned right I have a key. Every time I go out, I've got one key that I'm thinking about. One key. If that stops working, I'll find another key that works. That stops working, I find another key. He said, Sometimes I go back to a key that worked for me before, and that starts working.
But that's the evolution. That's the evolution of your body. But you actually come back to some of the same keys. I do the same thing with my swing. I learned how to swing the golf club in 1994, honestly learned how to swing it properly. And I remember those keys that made my swing work. Every once in a while, I'll get really lazy and start hitting some bad shots and not thinking about it too much and I start getting under the ball like this or too much like this, and I think, Come on, Watson, get back to where you get this way, get more level with your shoulders and get that way. And it starts working again. We all do that. We're always searching for that Holy Grail, and that grail is - sometimes you get close enough to smell it, just maybe almost to touch it, and then sometimes it's so far away you need Palomar telescopes to see it.
TOM WATSON: Well, you were critical, but deep in my heart I knew you were right when you said he was choking away tournaments. I won two tournaments early in '77, back to back, Crosby and Andy Williams, San Diego. And then I had a lead in the Players Championship, I think, at Sawgrass, shot 75 on a hard day the last round to lose to Mark Hayes, and then the story starts saying Watson choked. But they kind of forgot about the first two tournaments that I won. I won and I held the lead in the last round, and the other one I had a big lead and I just kept it. I said, Well, they have selective memory, these guys. Yeah, before that I had a hard time winning, but I won a couple of times.
What I liked about Rory McIlroy is earlier this year he said, I'm more comfortable under the pressure now, and that's - it's an evolution when you learn how to play this game on the professional Tour, how you evolve learning how to deal with the pressure, because that's the fundamental part of this thing. Yeah, you've got your game and you create your routines and your golf swing and you get your golf swing kind of where you want it, and sometimes it's really where you want it, other times it's not, but you also have to throw in the mix that pressure when you're close enough to the lead where it really means something.
And there's no pressure if there's a little bit of pressure when you're not in the lead or don't have a chance to win. That's when you can start experimenting here and there. But when you're close to the lead, that's when you've got to deal with this. And the more times you're there, like Rory said, the more comfortable I am in this situation. But you're never comfortable like you're sitting back in your lounge chair watching the "Hatfields & McCoys." It's not like that, no.
Q. What differentiates Olympic from other Open venues?
TOM WATSON: It's on the side of a hill. You've got a lot of side hill shots.
Q. Harder to keep it in the fairway there?
TOM WATSON: Well, in my experience it was because the fairways are really moving fast and they're really tight. I think they changed the 17th because you couldn't keep it on the 17th. You had to duck hook it just to keep it in the first cut of rough there or you had to duck hook it against the side slope just to keep it down and then it would end up over here and then you've got to go uphill like that with a lie below your feet. In the old days I could hit that shot. I can't hit that shot now.
TOM WATSON: I played there once and shot about 85 or something like that. It was tough. It was so long. The ball stuck. It was really long.
TOM WATSON: He could putt very well. Again, you get down to it, if you're going to be betting, you go over there at the British Open and start betting, look at these guys on the putting greens, this guy is making two out of three from 15 feet and this guy is not making one out of six from 15 feet. You start betting on the two out of three guy. You start from the putting green on up is what you do.
TOM WATSON: I did, yes.
Q. How difficult were the greens in '77?
TOM WATSON: They were slower in '77, but when I won in '81 they were really fast.
Q. Is that when they changed them?
TOM WATSON: Uh huh, '81 they changed.
TOM WATSON: Well, night and day is a pretty good description, yeah. Yeah, they were slow in '77. They were slow. You ever see the old films of Palmer? You remember seeing him putt? Yeah, he's down there like this, and he's going like this and just whacking it, and the ball is going to kind of stops like that. Now it's going this fast and it keeps rolling, keeps rolling, keeps rolling and never slows down at that speed.
TOM WATSON: Well, you're never afraid. Those greens play small. They're big, huge greens, but you understand if you're playing there a couple years, you know how small. You have to play to this area right here, and if you don't, you've got a tough shot, a tough up and down, a tough two putt. And you find out some of the places where you just simply don't want to be, where you're not going to get the ball up and down.
TOM WATSON: My hand is getting stronger. It's not there yet, but it's getting stronger. Doctor said six to eight weeks to get your strength back, maybe. It's past six weeks now. Monday was six weeks ago was when I injured it driving a tractor, my Z Mower. I've got a pinched nerve in the neck that caused me to lose strength here, compromised nerve here that lost strength here. Kind of a similar injury to what Steve Stricker has. Steve lost his power in his triceps, which I had eight years ago. I had this happen in my triceps just like he has in his triceps on the left side. That came from a problem in the neck, C6 C7. In his case he has had a struggle with it. Mine, my strength came back in a few months with the triceps, and I hope it continues to come back here and I can play.
I've got five weeks in a row to play this summer. I start that at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship, and that's in Pittsburgh. And then from there I go to the Greenbrier on 4th of July, play in the Greenbrier Classic against the kids because I'm pro emeritus there, and after that it's Indianwood in Detroit for the U.S. Senior Open, and then the Open Championship at Royal Lytham St. Annes and the Senior British Open at Turnberry. That will be five weeks in a row. Has anyone here played Indianwood? Honestly I don't know anything about it.
Q. One of the things that Jack said was that you kind of reminded him, the way you put your blinders on, you didn't care who you were playing with, but he also said it's important for kids to put their blinders on. Do you agree with that?
TOM WATSON: Well, the circus is a lot bigger. There's a lot more responsibilities, a lot more tentacles pulling at you today. There's a lot more of that. I asked Byron Nelson, how many autographs did you sign when you won 11 in a row in 1945? Well, Tom, at the end of the round I probably signed three or four. I said, how many press people were there? He said, well, at the beginning of it, there might have been four or five. I said, what about after 11 in a row? He said, there were a lot after that, 11 in a row. But James Dawson, he wrote a book "The Great Triumvirate." For those historians here that's a great book. It taught me some things about the personal relationships between Snead and Hogan and Nelson that I didn't even know being around Byron for so many years. It was a pretty illuminating book. I thought he did a good job with it.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.