By G. Rennie
The Open Championship kicked off this morning with an unexpected twist- no wind. The Ayershire coast at Turnberry was calm and sun splashed, at times. But it wasn’t quiet as appreciative fans joined in the thunder that rolled across the Ailsa Course seemingly from years past as Tom Watson delighted the golfing world with a brilliant exhibition of ball striking. The history of this tournament has no rival in golf and Watson, a true student of the game, has a unique position in the pantheon of living golf legends.
The gap-toothed Mid-westerner is the only man to be named Champion Golfer of the year 5 times during the last 50 year span. He’s a bridge across the distant past to the not so distant past up to the present day as he is linked with James Braid and Harry Vardon, and Peter Thompson, along with Jack and now Tiger.
Jack Nicklaus was as much a model to Tom Watson as he was to Tiger Woods but Watson is involved with the legend of Jack in an intimate way, very different and more real than Tiger can ever be. Jack’s greatness, to some degree, was tied to Watson’s emergence as an elite player, capable not only of winning multiple majors but doing so in head to head battle with the greatest golfer of the day (or any day in the opinion of some, this writer included). The many contests these two gentlemen engaged in are the stuff of legend with the Duel in the Sun of ’77, much revisited in recent days in the run up to the Open, as the ultimate drama of major championship golf. And today we were transported, at least for this day, back in time, with the modest, workmanlike Watson doing his hardest to peel back the years and rediscover the magic that he wrought so often on Open links, none more spellbinding nor enduring than his Turnberry run in ’77. Most noticeable in his absence is Jack Nicklaus, but we can’t really complain, since asking for more than one Major Magic act would be getting a bit too greedy.
Tom Watson embraced the challenge of a different type of golf than Americans usually play and excelled. He also cherished the chance to test himself against the finest sportsman and golfer of all time. He prevailed in those contests on a number of occasions and in so doing, he exhibited qualities of humility, perseverance, grace under pressure, and graciousness in both winning and losing. He brought a joy to the game that was infectious, genuine and endearing and that, in large measure, is a reason that his place on the leader board is such a cause for celebration among us older folks. We’re living vicariously (all sports fans do this, of course) and hoping that one day of magic can unfold into a weekend of unparalleled accomplishment. To win the Claret Jug once more, a sixth time, is almost a mythical quest and, I would think, a huge burden to bear for our Tom. I’m sure he has his ways of dealing with that. But regardless of the outcome, we are truly lucky and blessed to have one more chance to marvel at this champion, who appreciates this unique game as few can, as he wends his way across the links and into history.