HomeSportsGolf legend Tom Watson remembers his Open classic at St Andrews |...

Golf legend Tom Watson remembers his Open classic at St Andrews | CNN


As a group of amateur golfers gather on the first tee of the Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland, a man sitting in the clubhouse pavilion watches them thoughtfully.

Laughing and joking, the group’s enthusiasm for playing a legendary course steeped in Open Championship history is not lost on their audience. He is Tom Watson, and few people and places are more synonymous with the Open than the 72-year-old St. Andrews.

Watson, one of the most iconic names in golf, has won the major five times, while the Old Course at St Andrews has hosted the Open more times than any other venue and will host the 150th edition of the tournament later this month .

Incredibly, however, and not for lack of trying, Watson never lifted the Claret Jug on the historic links course.

With eight major wins and 39 wins on the PGA Tour, the American is considered one of the best players in history. His five Open successes between 1975 and 1983 leave him second only to Harry Vardon (six) in all-time wins at the event, cementing his reputation as a leading links golfer.

Had it not been for two agonizing second-place finishes, Watson would have eclipsed Vardon’s run, but even during the first of those near misses in 1984 at St Andrews, he insists the record was not on his mind.

“I didn’t think about that,” Watson told CNN Sport. “My job is to play every shot until I finish it here at 18 and hopefully it’s the lowest score of the week.”

With one hole to go in 1984, Watson’s job was almost done when he reached the notorious 17th hole tied for the lead with Seve Ballesteros.

His opening shot veered to the right, close to being out of bounds, and settled on a sloping mound. Thirty-eight years later, as he retraces his steps on the field, Watson can still identify the mound that led him to attempt an all-or-nothing second shot.

“Now he had to be a hero. I was going to take a chance and hit that perfect shot to win the Open Championship,” he recalled. “The rest is history, but the lie dictated the shot I tried to play there. I decided to take the aggressive game.”

Indeed, history, as recorded in one of golf’s greatest photos, Watson was subsequently forced to play the most awkward of lies just inches from the wall and the watching fans. Despite having minimal backswing room, Watson bounced with impressive effort across the road and onto the green.

Tom Watson takes his third shot on the 17th hole during the final round of the 1984 Open at St Andrews.

Yet as he lined up an unlikely long-range putt, his Spanish counterpart, one hole ahead, was starring in a soon-to-be-iconic photo shoot of his own.

“I heard the roar of the crowd,” Watson recalled, as Ballesteros marked his surprising, curved birdie putt on the 18th with his legendary fist-raised celebration.

Watson bogeyed before paring at the last to seal a major fourth victory for Ballesteros, who would triumph once again at the 1988 Open.

Seve Ballesteros celebrates after hitting the last green of 18 to win the 1984 Open.

Watson would never come so close again at St Andrews (a 31st-place finish in 1995, his best subsequent finish), but he came close to an incredible Open victory elsewhere in 2009.

The 59-year-old stunned the world at Turnberry, Scotland, by hitting 65, 70 and 71 to lead by one shot at four under par heading into the championship on Sunday. He put him 18 holes away from breaking the record for oldest winner, set by 48-year-old Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship (and surpassed by 50-year-old Phil Mickelson in 2021).

Thirteen years later, Watson said he “didn’t mind” the feat, but felt pressure to play in the event.

“I felt nervous because I knew I had a very good chance of winning,” he admitted.

Tom Watson on the 7th hole during day four of the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry Golf Club.

Recovering magnificently from two bogeys on the first three holes, Watson birdied the penultimate hole to reach the par-four 18th hole that he needed to par to overtake compatriot Stewart Cink and secure victory.

After an ideal tee shot landed him in the middle of the fairway, Watson believes to this day that he hit the “perfect” approach. However, just like in 1984, the elements weren’t on his side, as the ball landed comfortably on the green only to zip past the flag and settle in the tall grass downhill.

“There was a lot of wind on my back and there was even more gusting when I hit, and I think a lot of that ball that went over the green was just that extra gust,” he said.

Watson chip-putted on the green, but his failure to convert the ensuing 10-foot putt forced a four-hole playoff. Cink cruised to victory with a pair of pars and birdies, with Watson finishing four over par.

“This isn’t a funeral, you know?” Watson joked at the opening of his news conference, although he added that the loss had “ripped” his insides. Ultimately, though, the dying miss hasn’t diminished her love for the game.

“I am a golfer, I earn my living playing. How easy is that life? he said.

“I wanted to be absolutely the best golfer that I could be for myself. If that was good enough to beat everyone else, so be it.”

Seeing the camaraderie of the group of enthusiasts on the first hole only cements Watson’s musings, but it also stirs up another feeling: losing the thrill of competing.

“I enjoy being around the people that I’ve met over the years that are at the tournament sites,” he said. “But when there’s competition, I’d rather be on the golf course than hang out under the tree in Augusta or on the patio here.

“I want to be out there, you never lose that.”

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