So I cried a little yesterday! I know, some of you will think it is silly, but if you have ever swung a golf club or tried to squeeze in just one more hole before dark, then you will understand. I have shed many tears for lost loved ones, friends, and even lost opportunities, but yesterday I lost a little bit more of my childhood. You see, Tom Watson walked up the 18th fairway at Augusta National Golf Club as a Masters competitor for the final time.
As best as I can remember, I think I have cheered for Tom Watson each of the 43 times he has played in the Masters. I will always remember the 1977 tournament when he out-dueled his rival, Jack Nicklaus to earn his first of 2 green jackets. Probably what I remember most is the handshake as they walked off the 18th green, the best ever giving congratulation and respect to his next worthy adversary. Tom Watson bested Jack and Johnny Miller to don the green jacket again in 1981. I don’t recall a specific shot or put from that tournament, but I can still envision Seve Ballesteros smiling widely as he put the jacket on Tom like it was yesterday!
I am not sure what originally attracted me to follow Tom Watson as a fan. There were many great golfers in that generation, like the aforementioned Jack, Johnny and Seve, but also greats like Ben Crenshaw, Ray Floyd and Greg Norman to name just a few! But looking back at the career and the man, I think there are two characteristics that make Tom Watson special.
First, Tom was a fiery and scrappy competitor. A red-head from the Midwest, he had a drive and work ethic that elevated his game to the highest level of golfers in the world. But don’t get this twisted, he was a fiery competitor and tireless worker that was respected by his fellow competitors around the world. The class and sportsmanship displayed by Watson in all circumstances is not just golf, it’s the depth of character of a man that respected his game, his rivals, and himself. Late in his career while in contention for a 9th major championship, I watched him call a penalty on himself that essentially took him out of contention. You see his ball moved a fraction of an inch in the rough and only he saw it, not even the TV cameras could detect it. In recent interviews, Tom has admitted to dealing with some of his own demons, but that just makes me respect and admire him that much more!
The second characteristic that makes Tom Watson a special human being is that he is a great friend. Tom’s best friend was a guy named Bruce Edwards, his caddie for nearly 30 years. Theirs was a special relationship, more than just player-caddie or even partners. The friendship ended on the first day of the 2004 Masters when Bruce lost his battle with ALS. When Bruce got sick, the roles reversed and the superstar carried the bag for the caddie, figuratively and literally! More than a decade later, Watson tirelessly works to raise money for research to find a cure for ALS. (Personal note: I lost 3 friends to this dreaded disease around the same time we lost Bruce. “Damn this disease!”)
I guess I am too old to have new heroes. As an avid golfer for most of my 50 years, I truly admire the talent of these young players on the Tour. No matter how far they can hit the ball or how many feet of putts they can make in a weekend, every last one of them could learn from the work ethic, integrity, and passion for the game that Tom Watson has displayed since he first teed off at Augusta as a pro in 1975.
Thanks Tom for a great run, congratulations on the 8 majors, the dozens and dozens of times that you gave it a good go, and good luck enjoying your next career playing grandfather golf with the kids. I will miss you today, tomorrow, and from now on! Cheers old friend, thanks for the memories…