Tom Watson: What I've Learned

The golfing legend delivers his life lessons

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I don’t know what I might have done had I not been introduced to golf. I’ve always had a fascination with the medical profession, maybe I could have been a surgeon and been able to help people.

I think my competitiveness came from my older brother. He was three years older, bigger and stronger; I was always trying to beat him at almost everything we did but he was good at a lot of things.

I studied psychology at college but it really didn’t help, even in a mental game like golf. The only thing psychology made me understand was how crazy everybody was.

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I don’t look back at stuff. When I’ve failed, it only makes me work harder at correcting the failures. Rationally, if you’ve failed, you try to figure out why and then you go and work on it. That’s how I’ve always performed.

The best advice I’ve ever been given was from my father when I was just a youngster. He taught me how to grip the golf club, turning the Vs of both hands and pointing them towards my right shoulder.

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My dad really loved the game with a passion, but my mum was always there in a supportive role, too, as she would knit the headcovers; we’d play golf. My mother could never watch me play though once I turned pro, she got too nervous. And my dad was kind of the same way.

Humility. That’s one thing the game of golf can teach you about life. That if you play it long enough it humbles you. It can knock you down a notch. When you think you have it by the throat, it can come back and get you by the throat.

Having children in life creates a certain level of insanity. Of course, it’s a responsibility you have to take 100 per cent seriously, to do the best you possibly can to help them love, to learn to read, to respect other people, to have a good work ethic. There’s a lot of things that go into being a parent.

The way golf forges friendships is still one of the things I love about the game. It’s a great pleasure to go out and play with people you like to play with. It’s a special place, to be on the golf course.

The decision comes down to you ultimately but having a caddie you can trust is important. My old caddie Bruce Edwards was a great supporter of mine, first of all as a friend. He was always honest. If I hit a bad shot he’d say let’s find a way. Find a way to get the next shot done. And do it right.

Jeez. There are too many great moments to look back on. I think from a career standpoint, my finest moment was walking off the 18th at Turnberry in ’77 when Jack Nicklaus put his arm around me – having just won the Open by a shot over him. And he said, “Tom, I gave you my best shot but it wasn’t good enough. Congratulations, I’m proud for you.” That was the time when I felt I really could play and beat the best. When he gave me his endorsement. How he played in the major championships identifies Jack as, for me, the greatest player that ever played the game of golf.

If I could have one shot back in my career, it’d be that eight-footer I had to win the 2009 Open. I hit the worst putt I ever hit. It wasn’t even close. I forgot the golden rule in putting, just take it back and accelerate and let the chips fall where they may. And I decelerated on it. Jack [Nicklaus] called me to console me. And who better to console you than someone who is inside the curtain who knows exactly how you’re feeling.

I have no problem looking back at the 2009 Open these days. If that was the only Open championship that I’d had a chance to win and I’d lost it that way, it would have certainly had more of an effect on me. But I have the luxury of having won a few, so it wasn’t the only one.

It seems that every year I can sustain some sort of streak that’s acceptable to me, that I play some good golf. I don’t play that way very often.

The thing I learned from my long-time coach Stan Thirsk was how to treat people. He never got upset or said a bad word about anyone. I did. I wasn’t as good a man as Stan as far as how he looked at life and people. I learned that was something to aspire to be.

If I had to choose just one more hole it’d be the 16th hole at the Kansas City Country Club. It’s where I grew up playing and it’s the best hole on the golf course. All those wonderful memories playing with Stan, my dad, my older brother. Special, very special.

My dad impressed on me that you should never accept anything but the best in your game. If you hit a shot that was on the toe and it turned out to be good, understand that it wasn’t a good shot, it was a lucky shot. But if you hit it square in the clubface and it turned out great, that’s what you aspire to.

Nothing is forever. The only constant is change. Sometimes it changes for the worse and sometimes it changes for the better. And you’d better understand and expect that.

How I feel now to when I first started has changed. I thought if I worked harder than everyone else I’d be a success. I don’t work hard now so I can’t expect much in return, but when I’m on the course, I try to be the best I can. On the practice tee, the same.

Is there anything good about getting older? Is older and wiser a truism? No. I’d like to have a young 25-year-old body right now to be able to compete with these kids. And I think I could have competed with them.

Follow your passion and hope it’s something that can support you in life. It’s as simple as that.

Tom Watson is a Polo Golf ambassador for Ralph Lauren

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MORE WHAT I'VE LEARNED:

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Jonathan Franzen
Giorgio Moroder
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