Posted on July 19, 2009
When I was growing up, Tom Watson was one of my heroes. I loved his compact swing, his calm demeanor, his regally American bearing, and his intense competitiveness. I also liked the fact that he couldn’t putt, because I can’t putt either.
To that point, I once saw the famous broadcaster Jim McKay at a Baltimore Orioles game in the early 90’s a couple weeks before the British Open and I asked him who he thought would win the tournament. He said Norman. I said, “what about my hero, Tom Watson.” He shook his head and said simply, “He can’t putt anymore.”
Well, he putted pretty well a decade and a half later, but ultimately, it was the putter that did him in. On the 72nd hole, he had a very makeable putt to be the oldest Major champion in history, and he blew it, hit a terrible one, and then collapsed in the playoff.
The interesting thing about Watson is that he hit the ball as long or longer than pretty much all of his much younger rivals. Part of that was the nature of the course, where precision was more important than brute power, but Watson also had the strength and the stamina and that power to outdrive most of his playing partners.
I was excited to see Watson make such an incredible run, but it is probably fitting and proper that he lost. Nature was not upset, the world did not turn upside down, reality won out over fantasy. Watson’s audacity was in believing that he could cheat the golf gods. But the golf gods snatched it away from him and from us.
In the end, it wasn’t age that killed Watson’s chances, but the same Achilles heal that he displayed when he was a much younger man. He couldn’t make the key putt, and because of it, he came in second.
But let’s not cry too much for Old Tom Watson. He beat the rest of field pretty convincingly. He beat young studs and grizzled veterans. He beat the likes of Tiger Woods (who couldn’t make the cut) and Jim Furyk, and Retief Goosen, and Vijay Singh. Yes, he lost to one man, but he beat the rest of them, and for that, he deserves great credit.
Watson’s charge to the top made a lot of old geezers feel young again. He sent a signal to the world that 60 year olds can still compete with 20, 30, and 40 year olds. Had he won, it would have been a great story. Hell, it is still a great story.
I guess the big message here that age is all just a matter of attitude. Congrats to Tom Watson, who never let his age get the best of him. His putting? Well, that is a different story.