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Thanks for the Memories Tom, Legendary Champion Golfer

By: | Mon 29 Jul 2019 | Comments

ALL good things come to an end. And there was nothing much better than the stellar career enjoyed by eight-time major winner Tom Watson, who retired from competitive golf after playing all four rounds at the Senior Open at Royal Lytham. He finished the tournament with a 73 and was 15 shots behind the winner, Bernhard Langer.

There was barely a dry eye in the house as Watson completed his round on the ninth hole in front of a large and appreciative crowd who had gathered to thank him for his amazing contribution to a sport, he first graced on these shores back in 1975. And it had nothing to do with the rain. They were watching the end of an era.

"The crowds were very warm and appreciative," said Watson. "There will be other people who will take the reins and they will do what I did. Life is full of passages, and I've passed through my career here, starting in 1975 to here in 2019. It's amazing."

The 69-year-old, who has competed in The Open an astonishing 38 times and has made the cut in all 18 of his appearances at The Senior Open, confirmed this would be his last appearance at The Senior Open and that he has also played his final U.S. Senior Open, but will continue to play professional golf in a limited capacity.

“I've thought quite long and hard about the decision I've made,” Watson said. “It has to do with really a pretty sensible assessment of how I play the game now. I don't have the tools in the toolbox. I've mentioned that before, that sometimes you lose the tools in the toolbox. I just don't have enough tools in the toolbox to really compete successfully.

“So, therefore, I'm basically declaring now that this is my last Open Championship, Senior Open Championship. And I'm also going to hang up the spikes in the U.S. Senior Open. I've had a good career playing professional golf all these years. I've run across so many fine people who have helped me and supported me. First of all, my wife who is battling cancer now. It's going to give me some time to go out and compete with her.”

The Kansas City, Missouri native first competed in The Open in 1975 and claimed his first Major Championship victory in thrilling fashion as he became only the third golfer in the modern era to win The Open on his first attempt when he defeated Jack Newton in an 18-hole play-off at Carnoustie.

Watson would go on to be named the Champion Golfer of the Year again in 1977 at Turnberry, 1980 at Muirfield, 1982 at Royal Troon and 1983 at Royal Birkdale. Upon turning 50 years old, the American continued his dominance as he lifted the Senior Open Trophy first in 2003 at Turnberry—becoming only the third player in history to win The Open and The Senior Open—again in 2005 at Royal Aberdeen and a third time in 2007 at Muirfield.

As well as the unparalleled list of links triumphs, Watson will also be forever remembered for The 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry when, as a 59-year-old he was unbeaten over 72 holes, eventually losing to Stewart Cink—23 years his junior—in a four hole play-off.

I had the good fortune to watch Watson play on many occasions, including the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry, the legendary Duel in the Sun, when he and Jack Nicklaus traded birdies for four days in what remains the most talked-about Open of all time. I also interviewed him several times and what always struck me about him was that he took a genuine interest in the questions he was being asked. He would take the time to give considered responses and make his interviewer feel like it was the first time he had ever been asked a question that he had no doubt given a reply to hundreds of times previously.

You will not read a bad word about Watson. His fellow players loved and respected him, as did fans and officials all around the world. After the USA were hammered during the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, where he captained the team, Phil Mickelson launched a withering attack on Watson and his tactics. It backfired spectacularly, with Mickelson rightly being portrayed as the villain of the piece. In retrospect, Watson would probably admit that it had been a mistake to name him as captain. But it was hardly his fault that he was from a different generation. And it was hardly his fault that his team played like drains for three days.

He won eight majors. He would have won more had he not been blighted by the yips at the height of his powers. It would have finished many lesser men. Not Watson. He reached a point where he could barely look at a three-foot putt, far less hole it. But he battled through it and he found a way.

My favourite memory of Watson is from the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry. He returned to the scene of his 1977 triumph to make up the numbers. He was 59 after all. But for four days he rolled back the years. He came to the 72nd hole leading by one. Watson struck a magnificent approach to the final green. Unfortunately, it ran through the putting surface and he took three more shots to get down. He ended up in a playoff with Stewart Cink, and there was only ever going to be one winner from that point. Watson had given his all and was utterly spent. Cink would ultimately become the most unpopular winner of The Open. But Watson was quick to praise the younger man. He accepted his defeat in good grace. Just as he always did.

He will now change his focus. “I am not saying that I don't love the competition,” said Watson. "I love the competition. But I'm going to focus my competition on something a little bit different, on the back of a horse now. Over the years we've been around each other. I've seen a lot of people from the press over the years over here. Really enjoyed the times I've spent. It's not to say I won't be over here again. I'll be back at The Open next year as an ambassador for R&A.

"But my competitive days in The Open Championship are finally over. And as I said, I'm good with it. It's a decision that I am very happy with."

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “Tom is one of golf’s greatest ever champions and his extraordinary career has seen him win The Open five times and The Senior Open three times, a record that stands him apart from every other golfer.  He has made a huge contribution to the growth and success of The Senior Open and I know he was thrilled when we made the decision to bring the championship to the Old Course in St Andrews for the very first time last year. 

“Tom has brought great joy to the tens of thousands of fans who have watched him play in The Senior Open over the years and they will fondly remember him for his brilliant golf, sportsmanship and warm personality.”

We will not see his like again. A champion golfer. But, more than that, a gentleman. 

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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