by Jeff Skinner
As Tom Watson prepares to compete in the upcoming Senior Open Championship this week, his performance at The Open has prompted much debate on a few subjects. It appears that the R and A is going to revisit the age limit of sixty years old to play in The Open. Currently, past champions of The Open can play until they are sixty. The R and A has to be able to come up with some format that allows a player like Watson that almost won the darn thing to still compete for a few more years. There is some discussion as to whether Watson’s accomplishment was heroic or embarrassing. Some are saying that Watson’s failure to close the deal and win The Open was his worst major ever. There is even debate that calls into question the legitimacy of golf as a sport. How can a fifty nine year old man beat men that are much younger and more fit? They are all missing the true significance of Watson’s tremendous play.
On Sunday morning the media was prepared to call a Watson victory the greatest win ever at a major championship. Watson, already one of the greatest players ever, was to be labeled an even greater player, if that was possible. This was to be one of the greatest feats in sport. When Watson stumbled on eighteen with an aggressive first putt followed by a weak par putt the magic disappeared from his hands. He was no longer the golfer that knew he could win this thing, as he had said. He was now the golfer that lost The Open. The playoff added insult to injury. Tom had spent himself over the last eighteen holes and Stewart Cink played excellent golf to take the Claret Jug in the playoff.
All this was already academic in my opinion. Sure, I was pulling for Watson as much as anyone. Millions of fans were hoping he would get it done. But, the fact that he missed a putt or pulled an iron or came up short does not detract from the astonishing week that Watson gave us. Why do we need to label it as the greatest this, or the worst that. The fact remains: a gifted fifty nine year old past champion played well enough to win the oldest major championship in golf. He did something that no man had ever done before. He did it with dignity and class. He was generous and courteous to his playing partners, the press and the fans. He wanted it, he said so. He’s a competitor. He was as disappointed as a golfer could be afterward, but Watson knows that golf is a game. He put himself in a position to win and in his words “I didn’t get it done.” Believe it or not that’s all right. Golf goes on, life goes on, and Watson’s life goes on. Contrary to those that say Watson’s loss detracts from his status as one of golf’s great players, I say his performance enhances his rank as one of the greatest of all time. He did what many said was not possible and he did it with a grace, charm and spirituality that few men have. Watson displayed sportsmanship and character during a difficult time. But that is what we have seen from Watson for years. His performance this past week was legendary, and he remains one of the legends of the game.