by Jeff Skinner
It seems hard to believe that the best story of the year in professional golf turns sixty today. Don’t call him “Old Tom,” but Tom Watson celebrates his sixtieth birthday today. Can it really be that Watson is sixty? It was just yesterday that he was giving those young whippersnappers a lesson in the intricacies of links golf at Turnberry. Watson gave us the best week of the year when he had all of us cheering, crying and holding our breath for seventy one and three quarter holes at the Open Champioship. The Watson legacy started long before that.
After graduating from Stanford with a degree in psychology he turned pro in 1971 and broke through with his first professional win at the 1974 Western Open when it was one of the more important tournaments on tour. Watson was challenging for a major win but failed to close the deal at the 1974 US Open at Winged Foot when Byron Nelson offered to help him. It was a life changing relationship for Watson as Nelson became his teacher and mentor. Shortly thereafter, Watson found the secret to major victories when he won his first at the 1975 Open Championship. It wasn’t long before he was the best player in the game. In 1977 he beat Jack Nicklaus at The Masters by making birdie on four of his last six holes at Augusta. A few months later he and Nicklaus battled at Turnberry in what many call the greatest golf tournament ever, the Duel in the Sun. Watson and Nicklaus were at their best as Watson hung on to steal one from The Golden Bear. The two of them were intertwined for the next decade and became the closest of friends.
Watson won at least one tournament every year from 1977 to 1984 and was Player of the Year six times (77-80, 82, 84) and led the Money List five times (77-80, 84). He would go on to win eight major championships: two Masters, one US Open and five Open Championships. He hasn’t stopped winning since he joined The Champions Tour. He has accumulated twelve wins including four majors there. Watson was always active in his hometown of Kansas City and has made trips overseas to support the US troops stationed there. Most recently, Watson has spearheaded efforts for ALS research. His caddy and close friend, Bruce Edwards was stricken with the disease and Watson now devotes much of his charitable efforts to ALS research.
During his entire professional career he has displayed class, dignity and sportsmanship. He has had some challenges in his life but has managed to overcome then and has focused on family and golf and living a good life. He has had a playing career that places him among the best of all time. He is a living legend of the game and he still has enough left to show the world that this game is more than 300 yard drives and backspin from the rough. Watson keeps on going, searching for another win, another major. I can’t wait for next year at St. Andrews. I’m hoping the Watson magic touch will come alive one more time. Happy Birthday Tom Watson, we’re not calling you “Old Tom” yet.