Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tom Watson, the 2009 British Open and Hyperbole

As I watched the Open Championship yesterday and this morning, watching 61 year old Tom Watson trudge around Royal St. Georges in Sandwich, England, I couldn't help but be mesmerized.  He's 25 years older than most of the golfers on the course with him and 40 years older than the recent winner of the U.S. Open, Rory McIlroy.  Yet there he was, smiling through one of the worst weathered rounds in recent British Open history (and that's saying something).  He even punctuated this year's tournament with a hole-in-one on the short Par 3 16th hole on Friday, delighting the throngs of fans hoping for another miracle by the sea.

Ah yes, ANOTHER miracle. Remember the 2009 British Open and Tom Watson's turn at history?  Is it hyperbole to say that the 2009 British Open was one of the most important tournaments in golf history?  Forget about Nicklaus winning the 1986 Masters and Tiger Woods winning the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.  Is it hyperbole to call Tom Watson near British Open Championship in 2009 his best effort in more than 35 years of professional golf?  In my mind the 2009 British Open was one of the best golf tournaments I've ever watched.  He was just a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday and he was making a run at a championship that kids half his age wanted to win.  Could he turn back the years and relive his best years 30 years later?  I hope so as this was something I really could use, this Summer of 2009.  This pursuit transcended sports and reached the point of pop culture phenomenon on his last day.  I get chills just thinking about it today.  Sometimes even tears well up in my eyes thinking about the possibility.

Turnberry.  Watson had qualified with other Past Open Champions like David Duval and John Daley due to his utter domination of the tournament in late 70's and early 80's - winning five times in the span of 7 years.  He hadn't really competed in a regular PGA tournament in quite a long time, not winning a tournament since the 1996 Memorial, being relegated to the Seniors division since turning 50 back in 2000.

The first day saw beautiful calm conditions, permitting low scores from Watson and other elderly players Mark O'Meara and Mark Calcavecchia (although Greg Norman, himself having competed for the Open Championship in 2008 couldn't make the cut after starting with a 77).  The second day saw Watson tied for the lead after holing long birdie putts at 16 and 18.

The beginning of the weekend saw Watson continue his good fortune (and even better golf) as he continued his lead at 4 under par.  Watson was the oldest person ever to lead a major tournament and was primed to win in what appeared to be threatening weather on the Final Sunday.

Sunday.  We, I, just need him to last out 18 holes more.  We we willing him on every hole, shifting our bodies with every putt.  He would lose a stroke and then gain it right back.  He would miss a short putt, only to make an even longer one on the next hole.  The nerve racking nature of his game was driving us all crazy.  But he held his own out there on one of the toughest layouts in golf.  Yeah, I know Stewart Cink was the "Leader in the Clubhouse," and all, but Watson kept fighting and held a one stroke lead heading into the 18th hole. 

Unfortunately, he couldn't par the last hole as he missed the green in regulation and ended up missing an 8 foot putt to win the tournament.  He knew and we knew that it was over at that moment.  He fought so hard for 18 holes, and a 59 year old couldn't handle 4 more holes and Stewart Cink ended with the Claret Jug.  Everyone would have remembered his win, but unfortunately his second place finish no one will remember.  Maybe "no one" is too strong.

But back to 2011.  2 years older and Watson is still out there missing short putts, hitting long putts and making us squirm in our seats.  It will make me sad to hear that one day one British Open will be his last.  I guess time marches on even for the best golfer ever to play. Thanks, Tom.

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