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Lessons of a Lifetime: Tom Watson

Watson at Turnberry, circa 2009: turning back time and basking in the glow

The last time the U.S. Open was at Pebble Beach, there was a symbolic passing of the torch between Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods — the former walking off an Open course for the last time, the latter poised go out and dismantle the course en route to winning by 15 shots and donning the mantle as the greatest player of his generation.

Ten years later, on the 10th tee, there was a decidedly un-ceremonial encounter between Woods and one of the Golden Bear’s greatest rivals — Tom Watson, a man whose own efforts to emulate the class and character of Bobby Jones and Byron Nelson rivalled those of Nicklaus himself.

“As they waited to hit, neither Watson nor Woods exchanged glances, much less niceties, their cold shoulders turning the tee into an outdoor icebox,” wrote Karen Crouse of the New York Times.

“Behind the tee, a fan declared, ‘That’s my all-time favorite golfer.’ He was pointing at Watson.”

The frost was partly due to a pointed interview Watson gave earlier this year in which he criticized Woods for his on-course behaviour and urged him to show more decorum — and that was months before Woods put on his petulant post-round performance following a fourth-place finish at the Masters.

At Pebble this week, Woods has been sneering at less-than-perfect results, flipping clubs and slamming them into his bag. Watson, on the other hand, would have been well within his rights to snap his putter over his knee at last year’s Open Championship after fanning on the decisive putt at 18. Instead, he owned up to his performance like a man: with a shrug and a smile.

Both men are dads, and both owe their careers in golf to the influence of their own fathers. But at America’s favourite major, decided every year on Father’s Day, it’s readily apparent to anyone who knows the character of a man like Tom Watson that there’s little else in common between these two Stanford grads besides their initials.

Watson’s class and character are on full display in “Tom Watson: Lessons of a Lifetime,” a two-disc DVD set that features the 60-year-old multiple-major champion holding forth on everything from his preferred method for working the ball to the short-game skills that helped him edge Nicklaus at the Open in 1982.

The man they called Huck Finn in his greatest moment of glory

Not surprisingly, the chip-in at the 17th at Pebble — arguably Watson’s most remarkable, recognizable moment in professional golf, rivalled only perhaps by last year’s agonizing near-miss at Turnberry — plays a prominent role in Lessons, which opens with the original footage from the tournament, complete with Jim McKay’s somnambulant narration.

There’s even an endearing, if slightly cheesy, recreation of the famous shot, with Watson describing how it all transpired. But he cleverly uses the locale and the circumstances to provide a lesson in hitting a high, soft chip from a downhill lie before indulging the rolling cameras by duplicating his hole-out, celebration and all.

Lessons lives up to its name. It’s packed with full-swing basics, course management strategies and game-improvement tips, while the second disc is almost entirely dedicated to the short game, an area of particular specialty for Watson, who was in some respects the Phil Mickelson of his era.

Interestingly, Lessons boasts many of the same production-value signatures as Philly Mick’s own popular and critically heralded two-disc set, Secrets of the Short Game. Mickelson’s lessons skew young; the flop shots and anchor-throwing chips that he demonstrates are not really for the faint of heart.

Watson, meanwhile, provides a collection of tips that might be better suited to an older player. He recalls the glory days of his reverse-C finish, talks of having to learn to hit a 60-degree wedge and introduces each disc wearing a gold-buttoned blazer and sharply pressed slacks, all to decidedly disco-era theme music.

One of the many classic images you can find at tomwatson.com

The instruction is of Watson’s era, for sure, but the fundamentals never go out of style. Plus, there’s plenty here you won’t find elsewhere. In a section tantalizingly entitled, “The Secret,” for instance, Watson describes how Corey Pavin’s over-the-top practice swing helped him eliminate a chronic block, level out his shoulder plane and eliminate his reverse-C habits once and for all.

And in the second disc, where Watson takes on putting, chipping and the rest of the short-game shots, he demonstrates the effect of high winds on the tees and the greens by putting and hitting shots alongside a massive bank of fans (and the effect is dramatic).

The set ends with a touching tribute to Watson’s long-time caddie, Bruce Edwards, who died in April 2004 after struggling with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The tribute includes a song written and composed by Watson’s stepdaughter, Kelly Paige, with a portion of DVD sales  going to Watson’s foundation for ALS research.

It also includes a behind-the-scenes sit-down with Watson in which he concedes that he didn’t really feel he’d learned to swing the club properly until 1994, and before that time didn’t feel qualified to produce an instructional video.

“I don’t know how many more years I’ll be able to swing a golf club with any type of authority,” Watson says. “I wanted to get it down while I could still swing a golf club.”

Watson's webpage at tomwatson.com: a treasure trove for Tom's fans

Lessons of a Lifetime is, of course, part of Watson’s professional and commercial rebirth in the wake of last year’s Open Championship, and he’s striking while the iron is hot. Concurrent with the release of Lessons of a Lifetime is Watson’s new website, tomwatson.com, where visitors can gather swing tips, learn more about his career and, of course, buy the DVD set.
“I realized after the outpouring of love and support I’ve received over the years from fans that they really care about me and my career, so this is a great way of letting them into my life a little more,” Watson said in a recent statement.
“Hopefully my website will allow fans to get to know me a little better personally.”

The site itself is a treasure trove for Watson fans. There’s a rich gallery of photos both current and historic, a huge collection of (really expensive) signed memorabilia, a blog written by Watson himself and even a whole mess of his early television commercials.

Of course, watching the man they called Huck Finn play in a major at Pebble Beach is far more entertaining than any instructional video, no matter how he performs. But once next month’s Open Championship at St. Andrews is over, Lessons of a Lifetime will make a decent substitute.

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James McCarten

When James McCarten isn't at the Ottawa offices of The Canadian Press, where he works as parliamentary news editor, he's either on the golf course or putting off his latest freelance golf-writing gig to spend time with wife Lisa and school-age kids Claire and Lucas. With 20 years of experience in Canadian journalism, James also suffers from a financially crippling addiction to all things Scotty Cameron.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • You got to love Tommy Watson. When everyone else loved and worshiped Tiger Woods, he knew Tiger was a poor example of a “role model”.

    Watson is playing some of his best golf in years on both the Champion’s Tour and the main Tour. It’s amazing that he can still compete with the big boys.

    Jeremy

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