AUGUSTA, Ga.—The short music video will live forever. Tom Watson’s first time will say how many honorary opening drives to kick off the Masters.
If you were there you waited in the morning mist until the guards gave the signal that it was okay to rush to gather around the first tee. If you were lucky you got on the rope next to those who were allowed to sit early. A group of lavender shirts and hats. When Watson arrives, the terminus of the grand clubhouse procession through the gallery, he is also in lavender and you can actually see his genuine surprise. He didn’t know his family and friends would do this. Lavender is the color of pancreatic cancer, which his second wife Hillary succumbed to just three years ago.
Later in the press conference, Watson will tell the story of how Augusta National President Fred Ridley called his office with the invitation, and despite Watson’s concern, he was underqualified ( eight majors, two green jackets) to join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Ridley insisted. He also added that Watson is welcome to continue returning as an honorary starter for as long as he wishes. It’s strange to think that important matters are handled with such simplicity and grace, but there you go.
The fog is so dense that it creates a different feeling of space. The usual view from this highest point on the golf course is reduced to small objects immediately ahead. Dripping water from an umbrella, a soggy towel draped over the starter’s box of pencils and tees, streamers of audiovisual equipment wires at your feet. In this heavy tune devoid of distant sound, you’d swear you could hear the slight friction of fabric as Watson pulls the headgear. As the trio strikes successively into oblivion from the first hole, the varying solidity of each wet impact indicates the carrying distances.
A courteous press conference. Then lunch with Barbara and Jack Nicklaus and Sue and Andy North. Then back home for a nap. When Watson arrives in the late afternoon at the Rolex House, a stately white Georgian house directly opposite the Augusta Country Club, the 72-year-old appears as sunny as the now glorious weather, green blazer swapped against navy blue. As a stylish table for 50 people and an outdoor stage for a band are being prepared, Watson will speak with five journalists from around the world before the party begins.
“People asked me if I was nervous this morning,” Watson says. “To be honest, I really wasn’t. We got out early and got a little warmed up. As always, he started with the 4 iron. Too detrimental to start with a wedge and risk struggling with the theoretically easier club. “I want to work my whole body. If I hit a good long iron, I know I’m going to have a good day.
There have been plenty of good days, and from those he shares superlatives.
The best shot he ever had at the Masters was just a par in the last round of his 1977 victory. pressure levels were high being tied with Jack. We had both birdied the par five. I had a choice of a 5 iron or a 6 iron. I hit a three quarter iron five and cut it straight out of the bunker. When I hit that shot, the pressure levels just vented out of my system. He slumps in his chair to indicate relief.
The most important victory of his career was the 1977 Open at Turnberry. “Because Jack came up to me and said he gave me his best shot, but it wasn’t good enough.”
Although he was 59 at the time, he did not rank second in 2009 at the same course ahead of any of his majors. “I didn’t win and I felt like I could win the tournament that week.” End of the story. Next question.
Watson learned to win because he hated losing, but he won more after Byron Nelson taught him to slow his walking and breathing down a beat. “It slows down your pace and that translates to the pace of your golf swing. The load goes as fast as you can, your swing will go as fast as you can.
The main reason he made 21 consecutive cuts at the Masters was putting. “I was a great putter, especially in the 70s and early 80s. Being a good putter makes up for mistakes. They used to make me think I’d do a ‘Watson par’ and that’s where that you hit it in the right trees, hit it, hit it 40 feet, then punch it.
There are no more golf trophies to be won, but Watson lights up at the mention of horse cutting, which essentially involves separating and following a calf from the herd without using the reins. He pulls out his phone to show a demonstration video of “the art”. Watson wants to earn more loops, especially a Futurity loop like Hillary did, who was the top rider who got him into the sport.
A sunset, a garden, the clinking of glasses. This is and will be Watson’s Masters, a dignitary who speaks golf at receptions. “It’s fun and enjoyable to share stories with people about my life and my moments on the tour… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss [competing], but the reality is that I can’t because I don’t have the length. That’s why I stopped playing the Masters in 2016.”
But he is not fully retired. He’s a professional. He wears his Daytona Rolex, but explains that he also has an old Presidential with a stainless steel and gold bracelet, and wears them in exchange. “In 1978 I passed $1 million in income and my wife gave it to me with the inscription on the back that said, ‘To my million dollar baby.’