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July 14, 2014

Tom Watson


MIKE WOODCOCK: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm delighted to welcome the five-time Open champion, Tom Watson, into the interview room this afternoon. Tom, when we spoke at the Greenbrier, two weeks ago, I know you were thrilled to be able to join us to announce the extension of your exemption into 2015. Perhaps you could share with us your thoughts on that again, and how much you're looking forward to playing in St. Andrews once more next year.

TOM WATSON: Well, not to sound too sugary, but to finish your career as an Open champion at a venue with the history of St. Andrews is to me -- when Peter Dawson talked to me about it and said that we would try to help you out as far as getting a final exemption there it was, to me, I had visions of playing the last practice round with Arnie there at St. Andrews when Arnie finished his career at St. Andrews. And I had real strong feelings about when I crossed the bridge with Jack Nicklaus in his final round in The Open Championship at St. Andrews. I'm just a copy cat, I guess. I was honored and I'm very grateful for The R&A to extend that to me. St. Andrews, as Sandy Tatum would put it, as he put Cypress Point, is the Sistine Chapel of golf, from a historical perspective. If I'm getting too sugary stop me. But frankly when I first played St. Andrews, I didn't like it. I just didn't like the blind shots. I didn't like the way the course played. I struggled with it, and I never felt comfortable on the golf course, and I still to this day don't feel comfortable playing at St. Andrews. I don't care if the wind is absolutely dead. It's a golf course that always challenges you. And I've grown to love the golf course, and the community around it. The University of St. Andrews is a very special place. The town is a very special place. We've had wonderful experiences there, my friends and family. And to end my Open career there. People say, it may not be the end, but let's face it, it's probably going to be the end of my Open Championship career. It means a great deal. I just hope I can hold back enough of the tears to look presentable.

Q. This may be an impossible question to answer, but is there any one specific thing in your career at The Open that stands out above all else?
TOM WATSON: There are many of them, but Turnberry in '77. It was the time in my career I was playing about my best golf. I was breaking through is what I was doing. And earlier that year I won a couple of times. And then I won the Masters. Then I won the Western Open. I was really playing well. I was firing on all cylinders. And each time, when you have success, it's a confirmation. And I'd always built my goals, if you will, I built my goals on reality. You can take one step up, you can win a golf tournament, but it doesn't mean you're a success. You can win one. But when you win two and when you win three and when you win it playing your best and you're playing against the best, you have to take stock in the fact that you've reached maybe a different level. And after Turnberry in '77 I felt my career had finally reached a level, and I've said it kind of off the cuff, I could play with the big boys. I could play with them. And that was the tournament, as an Open Championship, I have to go back to and say that's probably the most memorable of my Open Championships.

Q. You said you can remember your feelings with Jack at St. Andrews, can you tell us what your feelings were that you remember?
TOM WATSON: I was crying like a baby going up -- off the tee, I started bawling. And Jack was -- here's the greatest player in the game. He's finishing his career, and he meant a great deal to me. He was the man I wanted to beat. But more importantly we became friends and confidants, and it was a special time, a very special time. He told me on the last hole he said, "Now, you've got to concentrate on this putt, here. Stop crying, you've got to make the cut here." I did. I had to make a putt about like that (indicating) to make the cut and I did.

Q. Were you crying tee to green?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, it was, from tee to green.

Q. You've said this week you had hoped to chat with Tiger Woods at some point. What do you hope to get out of that conversation? And do you have any worries that the Tiger issues are going to overshadow what's going on?
TOM WATSON: No, not at all. As I've said about the Ryder Cup and Tiger, if he's playing well and he's healthy, I'll pick him. But then the caveat is if he doesn't get into the FedExCup, what to do then? And that's the question I can't answer right now.

Q. What would you say to him?
TOM WATSON: Well, not a whole lot, probably. Again, it's performance. I could ask Tiger, how are you feeling? How are you feeling like you're hitting the ball? Are you hitting it well? And that doesn't mean anything, really. The performance means something. I'll be watching Tiger and I want him on the team. I do. He's a tough competitor and he's great in the team room. Wouldn't you want him on your team?

Q. Can I just ask you about your memories. I want to be a little more specific, was there a better shot than the iron shot you hit into the last at Birkdale?
TOM WATSON: Well, the 2-iron at Birkdale, I always said if I have one shot I remember most in The Open Championship, that would be it. That 2-iron --

Q. What about it?
TOM WATSON: First of all, it's a 2-iron. I don't care if you're a pro, a 2-iron is still -- you practice the long irons all the time. That's where you beat your competitors, if you're a good long-iron player. You hit the shots where you're supposed to, when you're a long way from the green. I had to wait a long time on that shot. That's the thing that was the big factor on that because the group ahead of us, they were making a mess of the hole and chipping it over the green, in the bunker and out three-putting and things like that. And I was watching this and I was back there, doing some shadow swings, and just trying to keep a good feel with the golf club. I went up there, did my normal routine. And as soon as I hit the ball, I hit it dead flush. There was a left-to-right wind and the ball started just right of the flag and hooked left of the flag, and Alfie Fyles, my caddy said, "Stop hooking!" I said, "Alf, don't worry." It went back up there like this and the wind brought it back, and it dropped right toward the flag. But of course I couldn't see it. I couldn't see it land. The red sea of people just converged right there and I never saw the ball come down. So I didn't know how far it was from the flag. All I could do was listen, listen to the crowd. And I just wasn't sure how close it was. If it was from here to the end of the room, then, now I've got a long two-putt to win. But it was here about 15 feet. I could gag that in. I could gag it in two. In fact I hit the first putt right in the neck. I remember my dad many times saying, "What in the hell are you hitting the ball so far by the hole? What are you running it so far by?" I was trying to lag a 15-foot putt. You're doing everything you can. And I just remember hitting it pretty far on the neck and it came up about that far short, and got that in.

Q. (No microphone).
TOM WATSON: I hit a couple of good shots going into the 18th hole at Turnberry. One came out great and the other one not so great.

Q. I heard what you said about Tiger's selection. But would you be brave enough not to pick him if his performance is mediocre?
TOM WATSON: At this point, again, those are the two parameters that I have. He's playing well and he's in good health. And I can't speculate how he's going to be playing through the PGA. I don't know. I hope that he's playing well enough where he gets in the FedExCup and plays a few tournaments in the FedExCup. That's what I hope. That's my sincere hope, that he plays well. And suspect he'll be there. But, again, I can't speculate until it happens. And then ask me the question.

Q. Could you give us some context in what you were trying to do at Gleneagles last week with some of the guys in the practice rounds? How it played out or didn't play out?
TOM WATSON: I was at Gleneagles for -- I arrived up there Friday night and the PGA of America were there, Ted Bishop and Corn were there and Kerry Haigh. And they'd set it up so I could play a couple rounds of golf there. And that was so worthwhile to be up there and play the golf course. I'd been around the golf course on a cart, and that doesn't get it; you've got to play it. And I've been there, I've played a few holes with the juniors of Scotland up there at the year-to-go event, which was a lot of fun to do, but I only played five holes. But I got a really good feel for the golf course. And I also got to see two different types of players play. Keegan Bradley played on Saturday. And Keegan can really hit the ball a long way and hit the ball high. And then Jim Furyk, who doesn't hit the ball quite as far, and played from a shorter position. So I got two different players I got to see play the golf course. My estimation of the golf course was wrong in the past. The golf course is really a good golf course. It's in wonderful shape. The greens are in great shape. The way I assess it, I think there will be -- if we have decent weather, there will be a lot of birdies made in the Ryder Cup. You don't have to get too risky and still have 15- or 20-footer for birdie. And so there will be a lot of birdies there. So that will be -- if we have good weather it will be a shootout, I think. We'll see some fireworks there.

Q. It seemed like the exercise was more to see how you saw the golf course play than some of your players hitting on the golf course?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think it's important because -- I wanted to see how the golf course fit players. One of the things I've been doing, it's really been a pleasure being the captain and getting to know these players, but also getting to play with these players. I've played with a number of the players who are high up in the list in the Ryder Cup right now, the American Ryder Cup. And I had a chance to watch them play, both in competition and in practice rounds. I can assess what their strengths and maybe some weaknesses are. And be able to see the course and how the course sets up for that, I think that's part of my job as a captain in my picks to assess what players can play that golf course the best. That's one of the parameters. It gave me some really good insight, I felt. The key there is the wind, where the wind is coming from, and how the golf course plays with the wind. We had two different winds. Thank you. We had a nice south wind the first day and a northwest wind the second day. So I got a chance to see the golf course play two different ways. I'm really happy that I did it and I got a lot out of it. I really did. A lot out of it to understand what the golf course serves up the player.

Q. Same issue, you said that you invited 20-plus Ryder Cup team members --
TOM WATSON: Not that many.

Q. Was that a disappointment or was it bad timing?
TOM WATSON: Most of them were playing either the John Deere, some of them the Scottish Open, some of them had other plans. It was late. I couldn't ask 20 players in December because the list hadn't been there, really. So I had to wait until a certain time, and I did it after the U.S. Open, started asking the players. And I didn't expect too many to be able to make it. These guys have different plans. As I said, they played in a couple different tournaments. It didn't bother me. If you're asking me that, it doesn't bother me at all.

Q. Just to go back briefly to the crying game. Have you ever cried on the golf course before or since? If so, what --
TOM WATSON: Not for myself, no, I've never done that. I'm either pissed off or happy, one of the two. Tears don't enter into that. But I did have a lot of emotion with Jack and Arnie. Those are matinee idols that I grew up wanting to be like or wanting to pretend I was Arnie and beat Jack. Jack was the villain back in those days when I was a kid. I'm Arnold, I'm not Jack. But then it turned around, Jack, he took the lead and never really looked back, all the way to '86. I have a lot of love for the game. I think that's apparent. I have a lot of love for the history of the game. I also have an understanding of what it takes to be at the top of the game. And to watch Jack all my life, so that I could possibly beat Jack -- when I came out on the Tour the pros -- when I came out on the Tour I asked him one question, what one thing is going to help me when I get out on the Tour? They all said the same thing. All different guys, not at the same time, different, they all said play with the best and watch the best play. Watch them on the practice tee. Play with them. Watch what their strategy is like on the golf course and you'll learn. That's how I learned to be your best. And I watched Jack a lot. I played a lot of practice rounds with him. I played -- later on in the career. I remember one time in particular I was at the Sea Pines Open at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, playing the satellite tournament, opposite the Heritage. And I didn't qualify -- there were five spots to qualify for the Heritage, and I missed it by a shot. I shot 72. And I ended up playing the Sea Pines Open. It finished on Saturday, Jack was leading the tournament on Sunday. I stayed around and I followed Jack the whole 18 holes in the crowd on Sunday to see how he played the golf course, because I love that golf course. And it was a tough golf course. I wanted to see how he shaped the ball around the golf course. It's kind of hard from the gallery, to be honest with you. Not a very good place to be, outside the ropes. I prefer to be inside the ropes. But it was -- again, it was instructional.

Q. It was clear that day, Tom, that you were crying. And it was equally clear that Jack wasn't. Did that surprise you that he didn't?
TOM WATSON: No. No. Maybe he had already done it, you know. Again, it was a special moment to be a part of that, be a part of that last walk up the 18th hole. And he did what he normally did -- I mean, he couldn't have scripted it any better. He couldn't have scripted it any better. Jack Nicklaus has birdied the 18th hole more than any living professional golfer in the game. When he's had to or didn't have to. Then he gets up to that hole and he hits a lousy pitch shot into the green, about 30 feet past. The wind is blowing hard left to right, it's downhill, a big right-to-left putt downhill. And ten feet from the hole I said, "Again, he did it again." He holed it for three, to finish his career. That probably didn't impress a whole lot of people, but, again, it impressed me.

Q. And as you approach, as you say, the end of your Open career, what's the biggest change to The Open that you'd identify over all the years that you've been coming to these things?
TOM WATSON: The biggest change is I think the commercial enormity of it, how it's changed since 1975 at Carnoustie. The few marquees and the few tents that were out there. And of course you had the big merchandised tent and that's changed. It's changed from that aspect. But I have to say, it's kept its flavor from the standpoint of playing the golf courses. Except for this year. What happened to the yellow scoreboards? There's no more yellow scoreboards. They're in the modern age. They have electronic, beautiful, HD scoreboards. Every hole there was a rules question out there. There was. That's a change. That's a change. But the way the courses play, it hasn't -- obviously they've added length to the golf courses, they had to. Obviously they had to do that. But we're playing links golf. And the beautiful thing about The Open Championship is that it -- they want the golf courses to play like links golf. They don't want them to play softly. They want them to play fiery. Of course last year it got a little too fiery. The greens got a little bit fast last year, quite a bit fast. But the golf courses, after a period of years, when I didn't like playing links golf, I finally decided to stop fighting them and join them, and started to really enjoy links golf. And I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it at Dornick. I had the trip in '81 with Sandy Tatum up there, prior to The Open Championship at Royal St. Georges. We played Ballybunion, and then we played Dornick and Troon and Prestwick. I fell in love with links then. It's a true links lover in Sandy Tatum. That always helps.

Q. What are your feelings towards Royal Liverpool as an Open venue?
TOM WATSON: This is a wonderful venue. The golf course is -- all you want as a links golf course. It has everything that I feel in links golf. There are the blind shots where you kind of have to figure out -- you see the edge of a fairway, but you can't see the other edge. You can't see that bunker over here. It's that unexpected part of the game that is so links golf. We're so in tune with you've got to see every shot. You've got to see every shot, you can't have blind shots and all that. Links golf is not that way. If you play enough links golf, you're going over hills and things like that. The dell at Lahinch, par-3 at the Old Prestwick, and things like that. Quirky, but again, you've got edges. You have to have your understanding of what you're trying to do and what you're seeing out there. It's not just all right in front of you. And that's the element of links golf that I think is more difficult to play. And I like that. I didn't like it at first. When I played St. Andrews at first, all those blind tee shots, I didn't like that at all. I hated it. Where do you hit it? You hit it over that gourse bush over there. Didn't quite like that. Then I kind of figured out, you play it once, you ought to be able to figure it out. Unless the wind blows the other direction, and that pot bunker over there comes into play, and you didn't know it was there or you forgot it was there, and you get in that thing.

Q. Following up on Gleneagles, what style of game do you think fits best, after playing with Keegan and Jim?
TOM WATSON: I think it's a through-the-air game there. I think a high-ball hitter has a -- depending on the wind, obviously. The wind is the biggest factor. But if conditions are pretty benign, the high-ball hitter is going to have an advantage there. You can get it to -- but the greens, again, the greens play bigger than they look, to be honest with you. They look smaller but they play bigger. And again, I'm glad I went up there to see that because it just tells me that there's going to be a lot of birdies made out there. I tell you, the putter had better be working for the team that wins. It's got to be working.

Q. And the second part, back to Nicklaus, what's the main thing you learned by watching and playing with him, starting back at Hilton Head when you were in the gallery?
TOM WATSON: Well, what I learned about Jack is Jack was probably the best at hitting the proper shot at the proper time. Meaning the mistakes that Jack made, to me, whenever I played with him, he didn't make as bad of mistakes as I did. I don't know if you ever saw the movie Top Gun, Maverick, and the Ice Man. The Ice Man never makes a mistake. That's Jack, the Ice Man. The other thing Jack has said, and these players have taken it to heart, a lot of these players have, "I outprepared my competition. I was more prepared than my competition playing the Major Championship sites." And Jack was that. He always went to Augusta early, the week before. He played a couple of rounds of golf there. Again, he would very much prepare. I remember Phil Mickelson going there and playing a seven-hour practice round at Augusta. And how many times has he won there now? So preparation, Jack was -- the other thing he told me, he said, "I never made this mistake again. When I had to hit a shot in competition, when it really meant something, I never went long." He said, "I made the mistake once and it cost me the British Open Championship, The Open Championship at Lytham, St. Annes at the 17th hole." He said, "My caddie, Jimmy, said, "It's a 3-iron." And I said, "No, it's a 2-iron." He said, "I flushed it right at the hole." It hit just short and went up over and just over the back of the green in an awkward lie. He took three to get down. He bogeyed the last hole to lose by a shot. And he said, "That was the key in my career, one of the keys that I learned early in my career. You don't go long. You can play from up in front, but the length over is usually not a very good place to be."

Q. Can I just ask you about hospitality in the center of Scotland, not so much around the periphery. I'm here from Gleneagles. Back in 1999 at Carnoustie, the year that Paul Lawrie won, unfortunately you missed the cut. And because you missed the cut, I think you'd decided you'd come along to Crieff, which is more or less adjacent to Gleneagles, and see what Crieff was like. And I gather that you had gone into a local hotel, where there was football on the television, and kindly asked incognito, if there was a possibility that you and your crowd could see the golf from Carnoustie. Unfortunately the people in the hotel there, I gather, wouldn't turn the television off the football. And I'm hoping this time when you come to Gleneagles the football will have had enough of it and that circumstance won't happen again?
TOM WATSON: Well, thank you. I do have a good story. I missed the cut at Muirfield one year. And I'm kind of embarrassed because this is part of the story right here. We ended up going -- when I missed the cut we headed on Friday to the Isle of Mull. And we spent a night at the hotel on the Isle of Mull, and played the little golf course there. And on the way back was Sunday, going back to the east coast. And we were listening to The Open Championship finish on the radio. I said, "I can't stand listening to the radio. We've got to stop at some place to watch it." And so we went by the small town and there was nothing. We drive by and here's a golf course on our left side. "Pull in there." And we pulled in there. And got in the parking lot. The parking lot was chock a block full. It was cars everywhere. And the four of us walk up, and we walk in the door. And there's a big room right there and they're all watching The Open Championship. And we're walking in there like this, and I walk in through kind of the aisle there and the guy, "Hey! Hey!" I didn't know, he was upset. I had my bonnet on. Bonnet is off. And we sat there and watched the end of The Open Championship there with all these people. And it was quite -- it was an enjoyable experience. And to I think I want to say it was Ernie, the playoff with Ernie who did that. But it was another one of the great experiences I've had up there.

Q. You managed to see the end of The Open Championship in 1999 in the Crieff Golf Club, as a guest of our golf club. Hopefully we'll see you again.
TOM WATSON: We'll do that again.

Q. Tiger Woods has attracted a fair deal of criticism this morning for saying that he intends to turn up here and win it. That's his intention.
TOM WATSON: Why is that?

Q. That's my question. Why should such a simple statement from a player like Tiger Woods provoke such a reaction? Why do you think he provokes such a reaction?
TOM WATSON: Take a turn from my friend Jack, it's silly. Silly to think that about what he said. No, why can't you understand that Tiger might very well win this tournament? That's my -- first of all, I hope he does well. I hope he doesn't beat me. I hope I play well enough that it doesn't come down to that. Just put it this way, I wouldn't write off Tiger Woods for a long time, the way he plays the game. He's a tough competitor. He knows how to swing the golf club. And, yes, he's had some injuries and other things, issues, but the thing is, he's had a long career, and I fully expect it to be a longer career. But to criticize him for saying that he wants to win -- did he say "I want to win" or "I am going to win"?

Q. "I intend to win," I think he said.
TOM WATSON: Well, good. I hope that's the attitude that most players who are playing well coming in here. Look at Justin Rose. Ask Justin Rose that. Ask Justin Rose if he intends to win here this week.

Q. Is it fear, people still fear him and that provokes the reaction?
TOM WATSON: I think it's more respect. It's not fear. It's respect. You have to respect what his capabilities have been and probably will be again. It's not fear. It's respect. When I was playing golf, it was always, there's Jack on the leaderboard, on that yellow leaderboard. Where's Jack? That's the first name I looked up there. I looked up, where's Lee? Where's Johnny Miller? In my early career, those are the guys. But it was always Jack. Throughout my entire career it was Jack first. And I guarantee you that these players looking at these new electronic scoreboards are going to be looking for Tiger Woods name, guaranteed.

Q. How about your old aspirations and targets to your game this week? And had The Open been here between, say, '75 and '83, would you have fancied your chances as the sort of course that suits your game?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think my game sometimes shows up. It's shown up a couple of times this year. But don't ask me whether it's going to show up on Thursday or not, I don't know. At 64 years old, it makes up its own mind. It really does. I'm putting pretty well. That's the one thing. That's the strength right now, I'm putting and chipping well. But my iron play is not very good at the moment. It was really off on the practice session I had, but then I straightened it out at the end. So I have something going in the positive direction there. Watching Henrik Stenson hit this driver down nine miles down there. I hit my driver, where he hits his 6-iron. But the thing about this golf course is that these guys aren't going to be hitting driver. And I understand how Tiger won in 2006 here, very simply: He was the best iron player by far during that tournament. By far. His iron play was spot on. So my iron play has got to elevate. It has to elevate in its quality right now for me to feel like I might have a sniff at it. Because you don't have to hit driver here. You can position the ball. If I'm putting well enough and making some putts, who knows? Again, I hope it shows up but I can't predict it.

Q. If you could pick two guys to play with in your final round at St. Andrews next year, who would it be, given that choice?
TOM WATSON: It's not my choice to take. Get Jack out of retirement. I'd like to play with him the last -- my last go round in The Open Championship, yeah. That would be fun.

MIKE WOODCOCK: Tom, thank you very much for joining us. Best of luck this week.

TOM WATSON: Thank you, appreciate it.
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