Last year at Turnberry, at the age of 59, five-time Open champion Tom Watson came within a whisker of producing possibly the greats sports story of all-time. Sadly, he stumbled at the final hole and then lost a playoff for the Open title to Stewart Cink, leaving golf fans the world over wondering what could and should have been.
Esquire's Dan Davies caught up with the eight-time major champion and links golf legend on the eve of the 150th Open Championship, which starts this Thursday at St Andrews...
You’ve always had a fantastic relationship with the British public, does it feel good to be back?
It always gives me special expectations. I learned about playing links type golf over here. I didn’t like it when I first came and played, even though I won a couple of Open Championships. It took a while to get a hold of myself, and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played over here - to get rid of my thoughts about playing American golf which is all about playing the ball through the air and stopping it quickly. I had to learn to understand the role of the bounce, and how that is just such an integral part of the game. And I couldn’t accept it. I wanted to control that, and that’s what my expectations are now. I come here with the understanding that the bounce is going to sometimes go your way and sometimes not. It’s like last year’s Open Championship on the last hole. I hit a shot that I thought was perfect, it landed perfectly, right where I wanted it to, and then I think it hit a gust of wind and the gust of wind took it too far.
I think all golf fans in Britain all still slightly broken hearted about that. A few years ago you came to visit the link course where I play, Westward Ho! in North Devon. That day, you asked your caddy not for yardages but about where to land the ball, which is a fantastic lesson for anyone playing links golf…
In links golf, you have to understand where to land the ball, because the ball travels so far on the ground. You play somewhat like that in American golf but not as much. The courses over here are dry, especially at this time of year. We’re in a drought. St Andrews ought to be very fiery again, where the ball, downwind, can roll 200 yards. The fairways will be faster than the greens at St Andrews.
The Old Course at St Andrews is such a unique place. Is it a course you like?
It’s a humpy bumpy, kind of a blind shot kinda place. There’s a lot to understanding it, you never get too familiar with St Andrews. It’s a wonderful golf course.
You’ve become a true aficionado of British links courses over the years, so where will you be playing in the lead up to St Andrews?
I’m going to play Kingsbarns, I’ve played there a couple times before and I really like that, and I’m going to play Ely for the first time.
I’ve just read a fantastic book called Open Secrets by Robert Winder (Little Brown), which is the complete story of last year’s Open, beginning with the qualifying process and running all the way through to the climax at Turnberry. You talked about having a ‘special feeling’ coming into the Open last year…
I found my putting stroke on Tuesday. It was really nice - I started making everything. And I thought, ‘Now I have a chance’.
How are you feeling about this week?
I don’t know. Ask me on Wednesday. It’s like last year; on Wednesday last year, I said I have chance. I hope I have the same feeling this Wednesday at the Open at St Andrews.
‘Tom Watson – Lessons of a Lifetime’ Instructional Two-DVD set is out now, priced £29.99