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Watson: "Hey, this ain't a funeral."

Classy in defeat -- Tom Watson made us remember why we love the game so much.

Classy in defeat -- Tom Watson made us remember why we love the game so much.

“Hey, this ain’t a funeral, you know,” Watson said as the media filed into his press conference.

That was the second time he’d been wrong yesterday — the first coming when he picked an iron that would result in a shot that landed on the 18th green as opposed to one that would bounce the ball up from short of the surface. I don’t think there was anyone yesterday who didn’t want Watson — one of the game’s greatest players — to win again at the age of 59. Though the best comparison might have been Ben Hogan who remained a force in majors until his mid-50s, coming close a couple of times, Hogan was always cold and distant. He was easy to admire, but hard to love. Not so with Watson. It is just too bad he chose an unusual time to make a really big mistake, then compounding it with a bad uphill putt from behind the green and a final shot with the flatstick — and let’s be honest here — where it looked like his age finally caught up with his nerves.

I actually thought Watson might pull it off — especially after making birdie on 17 to take a one-shot lead. It was clear from the limited television coverage of Stewart Cink that no one thought he’d win. He backed into the lead only after Watson fumbled and Lee Westwood made a ridiculous blunder on the final green, proving that putting under pressure isn’t just linked with age. A bomb can go off in your hands in your 30s or 50s, apparently.

Throughout it all, Watson was a class act. He demonstrated how to hold yourself while in the lead, smiling and clearly enjoying himself, and also showed his character when you lose a heartbreaker. You have to love his response about Cink’s win:

But I congratulate Stewart. It was a tough day to play. It’s a difficult golf course, crosswinds, getting the right weight, which I prided myself, I just didn’t do it in the last hole. I hit the shot I meant to, and when it was in the air I said, “I like it.” And then all of a sudden it goes over the green, and I just didn’t get the job done after that.
But the crowds were just wonderful to me all week. You were wonderful to me all week. It reminds me of what it used to be like when you played the big Tour, played the kids’ Tour and were in contention all the time and the responsibilities that you had, that you have, to take care of business.
My hat goes off to Tiger for what he has to go through on a weekly basis with all the things pulling at him, as much as he wins and as much as he’s in the limelight.
With that I’ll open it up to questions. Anybody like to know anything?

“Anybody like to know anything?” — remarkable. His hat can go off to Tiger, but rest assured that Woods would not have offered up as much of himself had he just lost in a playoff.

That’s the question I want you to answer — was Watson’s near win good for golf? To my way of thinking it surely was and would have been even more positive had he won. The game focuses so much on Tiger Woods that it sometimes turns people off of the sport. Watson’s play brought out the dreamer in all of us —   including himself.

“It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn’t it?” Watson said in the press room after the round. “It would have been a hell of a story. It wasn’t to be. And yes, it’s a great disappointment. It tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It’s not easy to take.”

That’s where he’s wrong — it was  a hell of a story. A remarkable one.

The Scottish crowds certainly appreciated what he was doing — and in turn Watson appreciated them.

Q. Taking the whole occasion as a whole, is there one abiding memory you’ll take away from this week?
TOM WATSON: The one memory? Well, I think coming up the 18th hole again. Those memories are hard to forget. Coming up in the amphitheater of the crowd and having the crowd cheering you on like they do here for me.
As I said, the feeling is mutual. And that warmth makes you feel human. It makes you feel so good.

It made me feel good — that is for sure — and I bet it made some of you feel pretty great as well.

Note: I’m at the Canadian Open all week, where I’m writing for Sympatico’s golf site. I’ll be posting some notes here, and pointing you to the Sympatico site and my Twitter account. I can smuggle my Blackberry out at the Abbey — so I’ll do some short real-time posts there.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Watson’s near win was fabulous for golf…and for golfers of any age – hope for those with gray hair knowing that they can still compete and those young golfers knowing that their opportunity for competitive play seems near endless.

    On a related note, I did cringe at ABC’s comparison of Watson’s achievement with older athletes from other sports. Their comparisons were with other sports that required physical intensity and contact…not a fair or reasonable comparison.

    This is not taking anything away from what Watson did but playing professional golf at 59 is not in the same league as being a quarterback in the Superbowl or a scoring goals in the Stanley Cup final. The lack of physical contact in golf makes the comparison weak.

  • Regarding 18, why did he not chip the ball from behind 18, was it the lie, nerves (slightly mis-hit and he could repeat the shot again). When I was watching I thought the best he could do was putt it to 5 feet and likely it would be 10, but I solid chip would be stone dead. I haven’t heard the answer to this and am wondering if Watson has answered it.

    Chris

  • A better comparison might have been between Watson and Russ Howard, winning the Olympic Curling Gold in Turin at his 50+ age. Like golf, curling’s a sport that can be played competitively into your later years (and no body contact).

  • Chirs – when I saw him pull the putter, I feared he had lost his nerve. It wasn’t the Watson play out of that grass.

  • RT, you are dead-on: It was a “remarkable” story and DID make me feel good watching it. Tom is still able to thrill after all these years. I didn’t even miss Tiger at all.

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