A Golfer For The Ages

It was, in the end, not age that withered him. Tom Watson, standing on the brink of golf’s most romantic victory on a course he might as well own, was struck down by the lack of belief in his putter that has haunted his career for so long.

In a week when he spoke of spirituality, when he’d apparently stopped the ageing process and turned back time Watson was, at the crucial moment, shown to be a mere mortal after all. Two poor swishes of that creaking putter and the moment had gone.

Not the oldest Open winner since Old Tom Morris, the oldest major winner since Julius Boros, not a ninth major, a record equalling sixth Open. It wasn’t to be. The records remain, a thousand golfing encyclopedias remain safe from the pulping factory.

He began the week as a nostalgia act. Appearing one last time at Turnberry the papers treated old TW as a tribute act to himself, there to smile his gap toothed smile and acknowledge the applause as the main event – dominated by an altogether different TW – raged on around him. Hell, the old boy might even make the cut and give the weekend galleries the chance to laud him and the Sunday press the chance to patronise him.

And then he gathered himself together and shot 65 on the opening day. Friday morning’s headlines were written, a final day in the sun for the most popular duellist of them all.

When the bogeys arrived like gunfire on Friday it was as expected. But Watson – egged on by Sergio Garcia and Matteo Mannassero – responded as others, most notably Tiger Woods, simply wilted. Not only did he steady the ship but he fought back to take the lead. That leaden putter suddenly seemed sprinkled with magic dust, the blunt instrument of despair turned into the magician’s wand.

The greatest links golfer ever born would play in the final round on Saturday just as he had in 1977. And then, of course, he could slide down the leaderboard with some dignity. Artificial hip and all he had fought the good fight, upped the nostalgia stakes and given the 138th Open a story more enthralling narrative than Scottish spats or Tiger’s tantrums. But like an ageing gunslinger this self styled old geezer would not go quietly into the night.

On Saturday evening, dealing once again with the slings and arrows of links golf with a serenity bordering on the transcendental, Watson kept his share of the lead. In a week of snakes and ladders on the leaderboard Watson had been the one constant. If nothing else his staying power made him a contender going into Sunday.

Or did it. We wanted it. Sitting at home watching on the TV we wanted it. Sitting in the press centre dreaming of our Watson filled copy we wanted it. In galleries preparing to roar on the most cherished of all Scotland’s adopted sons we wanted it. And yet each of us, surely, felt that this couldn’t happen. In a world of scepticism and cynicism, where sport is about bottom lines and drugs tests, where the media launches misery at us with a scattergun, this most perfect of all stories, this fairytale of epic proportions couldn’t happen, could it?

Oh, but yes it could. Watson, “Oor Tam,” wobbled but only as others wobbled too. Level par would surely now win it for him. The kid from Kansas, his face now showing the lines of every missed putt, back at Turnberry, his own yellow brick road, needing only 70 for a victory that would overshadow everything else he had done in golf. The victory that would immediately enter the folklore of this grand old championship.

Already in the pantheon of greats, this Tom, would have been placed on the pedestal reserved for Morris, old and young. A third Tom who we watched with awe when he was young and then, for four days, came together again to watch with joy, incredulity and laughter when he was old.

The others knew their part. Ross Fisher looked to make the early running but collapsed. Lee Westwood stuttered, stumbled and fell at the last. All around the likely lads, the men expected to deny the old timer, fell away. Only Cink kept his cool. Playing a few groups back on a major Sunday your job is to post a target. Cink ripped up the fairytale and stuck doggedly to his own script.

The play off was never in doubt. Watson’s dreams, the dreams of every sports fan, were in smithereens the minute that putt sliced off his putter.

For 71 and a half holes, for four wonder filled days, golf’s ghosts and the spirits of Tom’s own legend had smiled on Turnberry. When they vanished they left only a sense of disbelief. The genius of Watson’s artistry left us anticipating the impossible, he brought the essence of sport to life again. But triumph and failure are uneasy bedfellows in all of sport’s most intriguing narratives.

“The old geezer almost did it” Watson said afterwards. No, Tom, for four incredible days in Ayrshire you did much more than that. Thanks for everything.

12 Responses to “A Golfer For The Ages”

  1. […] Here’s a little piece that I wrote about Watson’s efforts in 2009 and some nice comments… (I was writing as Fergus Jack) […]

  2. Great post. Watching Tom Watson this past week was truly amazing. He had it in the bag, so we thought. But this is golf, when it comes down to a will to win some players execute and some don’t. Tom has won 8 majors, so he knows a thing or two about winning but the last major he won was in 1983. But I think the age thing got into his head.

  3. Bob says:

    This is among the finest articles on this wonderful sport I have ever had the good fortune to read – positively brilliant and my humble congratulations. The final day proved the most exciting golf I have seen either in the flesh or on television – sad that his ball ran just the few extra feet at the 72nd hole – had it stayed on the cutgrass I am sure that Tom Watson would now be ” The champion golfer of the year” but he raised the hopes of millions to the finish.

  4. Benjamin says:

    “A Golfer For The Ages” was very well written and a joy to read. I am 65 years young and now seldom find writing worth reading but I was hooked (no pun intended); from beginning to end. I will read it again. Masterful pensmanship.

  5. Hugh James Copeland says:

    As an old geezer about to play in a matchplay final in Germany Tom has proved an old head can still get there at the finish,I will take Tom`s Turnberry golf with me on Thursday when I play my Matchplay final and hope I can win against a much younger player,by the way I am 61 years old,come on the auld yins,

  6. Jerry Seubert says:

    Hi Andy,

    Great article,……I loved every word of it…..As the millons of seniors came unglued from their sets, they will be talking about it all the way to their graves….Hollywood could never make a movie with this type of storyline, because nobody would believe it.

    Jerry (Wisconsin)

  7. John Dewar says:

    After 2 excellent shots on Sunday to the final hole the enormity of the task of getting down in 2 shots to re write Golf history no doubt got to Tom Watson.

    On balance he had putted well on all 4 days and earlier in this round and in other rounds he had sunk similar putts in 2 from just off the green. There is the old adage that a poor putt is often better than a good chip. Perhaps he gripped too tightly for that first putt on the last hole. If he had got to within 3 or 4 feet or less the second putt I felt he would probably manage to sink it but when it turned out to be 8 or 9 feet I thought he most likely would not sink it. When professionals only sink about 50% of putts from 6 feet then 8 or 9 feet becomes much harder especially on the final hole.

    Thanks Andy for this excellent article and to Tom Watson for a wonderful effort and he is the oldest winner of the Silver Salver if not the Open Trophy.

  8. Don Hutchison says:

    A wonderful article. I enjoyed reading same nearly as much as watching from here in Australia.


  9. Rick Tod says:

    The missed putt on 18 broke my heart.

  10. Ron Mullard says:

    Cink may have won the tournament but the real hero was Tom Watson .He competed in a field of competetors the majority of which he was old enough to be their father and some even their grandfather.He certainly did not disgrace himself,he played 71 excellent holes and only faultered on the final putt on hole 72,some big names didn’t even make the cut and certainly didn’t display the same kind of dignity or grace in defeat.Tom Watson is a true hero and a real gentleman many could do no better than following his example.May you experience many more victories on the seniors tour,you deserve it.

  11. Bob Crawford says:

    What a fantastic exhibition! We all wanted Tom to win. At that most critical moment, standing over a putt that would make him the oldest OPEN winner ever, he lost that one positive thought, I can do this. I can sink this putt. Instead he hurried that last stroke somewhat seemingly indifferent attitude or effort and made his weakest effort of the Tourney. How sad. And yet what a great perfomance. Bob Crawford

  12. Larry Quah says:

    As a senior golfer, I take my hat off to Tom. Although he lost out to Cink, he has done all following him proud. We wished that he would have won at 1 minus 60 but it was not to be. Thanks for the thrills, Tom!

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