July 12, 2000
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Okay. Tom Watson, first trip here to Dearborn for the FORD SENIOR PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP. We'll start with a few general thoughts, then open it up for questions. General thoughts?
TOM WATSON: Well, I played the golf course for the first time today, and I'd like to ask you a question: I mean, how did they shoot that far under? I know Hale won by seven or eight shots, but how did he shoot that far under? This golf course isn't that easy. Maybe it's not easy, because I'm not playing particularly well, but notwithstanding that fact, this golf course seems like it's a lot tougher golf course than the scores the pros have been shooting on it the last couple years, especially last year. It's my first look. I like Nicklaus golf courses. Requires very good iron play. Give gives you a little bit extra room off the tee, but the iron play is -- must be precise with that, and you must be on the right levels with these greens. The greens are not particularly soft, and with the weather I think we're expecting, they might just firm up a little bit, and I don't think we'll see the scores that were shot last year. But I refer to my game; I'm not playing particularly well right now. I'm struggling a little bit with my golf swing. It hasn't been -- it hasn't been as good as in the early part of the year; so that's the way the golf swing goes. How to do it? I don't know.
Q. Any sign at all that the game is coming back at all or might show up this week?
TOM WATSON: It just takes three good swings. (Smiling). That's all it takes.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about how this whole odyssey has gone for you, this cross-over this year?
TOM WATSON: The odyssey had began last year in September when I turned 50. I don't play very much in the fall; so I only played a couple events in the fall, regular SENIOR TOUR events. I played pretty well in some of the made-for-TV events. Played very well there. But beginning of the year, a couple things happened: I cracked my heal, my father died, and I didn't get off to the type of start -- or didn't have time to work on my game as much as I wanted to at that time. So the year has gone by. I finished second four times. I've had my opportunities, and I haven't made the best of them. I was actually graded by NBC today. They said, "How would you grade your performance?" I said I would give it about a B-, simply because I had not won. That's probably the bottom line is I haven't won, and I've had -- I've had my opportunities.
Q. How about as a follow-up, your emotional and psychological adjustment to hitting 50?
TOM WATSON: 50 doesn't mean a darned thing. I don't feel any older than I did five years ago. It's just that I -- obviously, the Tour is different. We're playing different competition. It's very, very tough competition. I'm playing different golf courses, new golf courses every week; and that's the big difference, I think, the newness of the golf courses. You have to get to know them. I only had the chance to play one practice round here at the Ford Seniors, which I have some regret because, I should have had a couple practice rounds here; and most of the other tournaments I've played, I've played at least two or three practice rounds in the other tournaments that I've played on The SENIOR TOUR. I've played in all the major championships this year: Masters, U.S. Open, British Open next week, and playing at the PGA at Valhalla; and then I'm looking first and foremost to this tournament here. I've didn't play particularly well today, but I drove the ball pretty well. My iron game is -- I'm going to go out and work on some irons after our conversation here.
Q. How tough is it to combine majors on both tours, because they are condensed into a short time frame? What's that been like this year?
TOM WATSON: What do you mean?
Q. The majors on both tours, the senior majors and regular majors, they are pretty close together.
TOM WATSON: They are. It makes me play -- this stretch is the long stretch here, playing six weeks out of seven, and you ask me how I felt at 50? Well, six weeks out of seven will tire me out just a bit.
Q. That will make you feel like 50?
TOM WATSON: It may do that. It may do that.
Q. You competed with Hale pretty strongly on both circuits now. Are you at all surprised at the fact that he's able to keep rolling at his age now on this circuit?
TOM WATSON: No. When I came out here, I said that hale is the best player out here, and he certainly has proven that. Larry Nelson and Hale right now. Gil Morgan has been hurt. Of course, Allen Doyle had a great year last year. Tom Kite has won a couple times. But Hale really is -- he's in there every week, as Larry Nelson is every week. It didn't surprise me that they were going to be tough competition, because they were last year and they were the year before.
Q. What quality does Hale have that do you think enables him to keep doing this?
TOM WATSON: He hits the ball straighter than anybody out here. I know that. He is about the finest iron player out here. When he's sinking putts, he's a hard man to wheat beat.
Q. Obviously, the other majors on the regular tour have their own histories, the Senior PGA, this one and the Tradition has sort of grown into that realm. Do you sense that as you come here?
TOM WATSON: First of all, let me comment, one person I've forgotten, Bruce Fleisher; he had a tremendous opening year last year. I knew I was forgetting somebody who really can play. But I do get a sense of an excitement here. This is Motor City. This is Michigan for me. I've always loved Michigan. I had the chance to vacation up in northern Michigan for years and years. I've always enjoyed the climate here, and this -- I know one thing, it can blow here, it can get cold here. It hasn't been cold the last few years with thunderstorms, but it can chill out pretty quick, and they get some hard winds here. So for a major championship, that's what you want. You want a variety, and you want tough golf course; you've got the tough golf course. I think it's tough golf course. Maybe Hale doesn't, but I do. You've got a good combination here for a major tournament.
Q. I think Jack Nicklaus had always given this course a little bit of the back of his hand because he was never impressed with the land that he really had to work with here, but you would imply that he's done a better job with this particular layout and design than perhaps he gives himself credit for?
TOM WATSON: I've always liked Jack's golf courses, for the most part. Sometimes he gets a little bit carried away, but it doesn't get carried away like Pete Dye gets carried away. I think his golf courses are pretty sensible. I like the style of this golf course. Especially the back nine. I mean, you have a lot of look, the 1st hole of the back nine looks like the 1st hole of Birkdale, Royal Birkdale, just the shaping of it. And there's other inferences out there links golf courses that I've played over in Scotland, and it's fun. It's a beautiful look, and there's some trickery to it. There's some blindness, too, which I like, and there's a heck of a lot of water. I don't know how many water shots there are on this golf course, but you've got some water to contend with here.
Q. Tom, are you into -- and if not, why not, any more design, other than Spanish Bay?
TOM WATSON: No. I've designed or been a part of designing I think now nine golf courses. I'm in the process right now of designing a golf course just south of Orlando. There are five others that I'm looking at, but I just want to keep -- my business is to play professional golf, first. I do love the design business. I spend a lot of time on site, and I -- therefore, I can't get involved with very many golf courses.
Q. But you might later?
TOM WATSON: I might later. At my one time I've had four courses going, which is too many. I prefer to have one or two golf courses going at any one time.
Q. You say you only had one practice round; you're not playing well. What's your expectations here, a Top-10 finish would be good for you?
TOM WATSON: No. My expectations are to go out to the practice range and find it. If I don't find it, my expectations won't be very high. If I don't find it this afternoon, I might find it tomorrow afternoon; I might find it the next day. That's the way this game is.
Q. You were talking driver today?
TOM WATSON: Driver was pretty good. My iron game was not very good.
Q. How is the putting?
TOM WATSON: Putting was pretty good. I knocked it by a couple times. These greens are the fastest greens that we play on the TOUR, that I play. There's not a question they are faster than any greens with -- I think by if you want to put it on the Stimpmeter, probably about a foot on the Stimpmeter, faster than any greens we play. You can get caught speeding out there. You can get some real snakes out there, too. You can get some putts that go (indicating a loop) couple different ways, big breaks. And that's the result of poor iron play, or poor driving, because you can't get the iron on the right level of these greens. There are a lot of levels to these greens. A lot of greens that have four levels to them, and that tests your skill. The greens may be big in length, but they are very small in width, and when they have several different levels, then you only have just -- you have very small depth, too; so your iron game had better be on.
Q. You indicated when you were planning to come out on the SENIOR TOUR that you would play quite a bit and see what it was like. Now that you've been out here a while, is it what you expected, and do you figure how many years?
TOM WATSON: It is what I expected. It hasn't surprised me. I was told that -- what to expect, it was smaller crowds and quieter time out here. We've seen that. But there are some places that had some big crowds. I don't know how the crowds are here, are the crowds -- good size. But it really hasn't changed much from the other tour. The courses play a little shorter here. I don't see the 3- or 4-iron very much when I play out here, compared to the regular tour. I've played the regular tour, I'd better get a 5-wood or 7-wood for those courses out there.
Q. Do you see playing even more in the future then because of that, or just go as long as you feel good about it?
TOM WATSON: I'm going to play pretty much the same schedule, about 20 events.
Q. The course near Kansas City, did that just open recently?
TOM WATSON: Yes.
Q. How happy were you with the way that turned out, and when you get into designing, do you look at golf courses you're playing differently now from the designer standpoint?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, I do. I look at drainage of the golf courses differently. Because the first thing you must do is drain it properly. And then I've always looked at the shot values. You know, you learn by mistakes, usually, where not to hit the ball. And you say, well, why did I hit it over there? Well, this tee aimed me over here, or the wind was blowing past that opening in the trees that I couldn't feel that blew the ball over here. And from a designer's standpoint, you look at it that way, but I still think a good golfer has -- if he thinks good strategy, can be a very good designer. But the one in Kansas City, I'm extremely happy with, except for a couple of greens that we've already addressed, and we've addressed the issue. We haven't done anything to it yet. We'll probably do some reshaping of a couple of areas on some of the greens, because we didn't have enough pin positions on two of the greens, and that's what -- that's my fault. I take responsibility for that, because I wasn't there in the exact final shaping process before they sodded the greens or seeded the greens. But normally, I am. I'm there at each green's seeding or sodding to make sure that green is the way it should be.
Q. What's the character of that course? How would you describe is it to somebody?
TOM WATSON: The Missouri River watershed area. And when you're in the watershed area you've got a lot of elevation, elevation changes, and there's a lot of natural beauty to it. A lot of old trees that we used to utilize on an old public golf courses that we took about half a dozen holes off that course and reshaped them. So we had an old mature look on some of the holes of the golf course. It will be very pretty. It's got some striking views and -- very, very striking views.
Q. Any chance it might host any kind of national tournament, amateur or pro or anything like that?
TOM WATSON: Well, the PGA TOUR is taking a look at it. They want to take a look at it again in its finished stage. They took a look at it in its half-finished stage, and they want to take a look at it now and see. PGA TOUR is always looking for golf courses for venues, for sites, for logistics, making sure you can put your corporate tents and your parking, and they are always looking for good sites.
Q. You're heading to St. Andrews next week, and with the announcement about Jack's last trip to the British Open, is this going to be your last trip?
TOM WATSON: No. In one word. (Laughter.)
Q. Are you playing the British Senior Open?
TOM WATSON: I'm not. I have some duties to perform that week that prevent me from playing. I'm the captain of Ballybunion, and we have a couple of events there that as captain, I am presiding over.
Q. How do you think Ballybunion held up during Murphy's Irish Open?
TOM WATSON: I did. I was surprised at the low scores, but I think some of that had to do with, not making excuses, but some of that had to do with lack of wind, forward tees and easy pin positions. The last day of the golf course played, it had some teeth in it. They put the pins a little bit more toward the edges of the greens. The first three days, the pins were pretty easy, and the wind didn't blow. It's a short golf course, and they had three -- four tees up forward of the back tees. So it made it even shorter.
Q. Did you like the traditional routing?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, I thought it was good routing. It's a tough start. Starting on 6, then 7, the little par-3 8th, and then 9 -- 9, 10 and 11, that's not an easy start. You finish with a couple par 5s, and that's a nice breather, but up until that time -- I would have liked to have seen the wind blow harder and test them out, because they actually had the easy wind. They actually had the east wind for a couple days, a light, east wind, and then the last day they had it from the north, northwests are -- which is the easy wind on the golf course; they never have it from the south. When you have the south wind at Ballybunion and you have a strong wind, you're cooked. You have a hard time breaking 80. And it's only a 6,600-yard golf course.
Q. A little bit of who you are grew out of those great battles you used to have with Jack. Hearing you talk of the British Open made me think of this -- because of physical limitations, it appears you and he are never going to have those battles. Does it sadden you that you might never have those battles out here on this tour?
TOM WATSON: No. I'm grateful for the fact that I had some battles with him and came out on top. Those memories are cherished.
Q. But you have no desire to it again?
TOM WATSON: Well, you never know. We'll be there. We'll be at the -- you never know. St. Andrews is a place that Jack can play well. I could play well here. You never know.
Q. 50 seems like so much younger than 60 or 61.
TOM WATSON: Well, I haven't hit 60 or 61, but those people who are 60 and 61, they say: "You bet it's a lot younger. A lot younger."
Q. Are your competitive juices still flowing like they were on the PGA TOUR?
TOM WATSON: There's a little bit of a difference. I take a little bit more time away from the game now than I did. You know, back in the time when I -- back in the 70s and 80s, there got be too many days I would ever miss from golf. You know, I missed stretches at a time. You know, I think that does effect me. But I've had the luxury in the last ten years of really relying on a pretty good, pretty sound golf swing; and when I got off, it was pretty easy to get back on again; and so I've relied on that.
Q. Over the weekend, I was watching Classic Sports, and they were replaying the 1982 final round at Pebble Beach. How many times have you watched that replay, if at all? And is there anything else on that final round, people focus on the 17th hole, but are there any shots you think have been forgotten?
TOM WATSON: I think I've watched it twice. I've hardly ever watched anything. I just don't. I have all my archives, all these videos and things like that. They don't fit in videotape anymore. But there are a couple shots there that were pretty critical. I think the up-and-down I made at 10 out of kikuyugrass short of the green, in the hazard, made about a 25-foot putt for par there that kept me on track. And that putt at 14 was an awfully good putt coming from the back fringe of the green, knocking that in. Those were two huge putts. But probably the most critical one at all was the 2-putt for 16 for bogey. That was it. From the back of the green to the front, I laid that ball up there stone dead, as they say. Next week, about like this, (indicating three feet), and I didn't have to struggle there.
Q. It's tempting for all of us and the public to think about 1982 and that shot, but is it safer to say on a level of gratification it's still Turnberry in 1977 that was the ultimate?
TOM WATSON: I don't put it as the ultimate. It was a great championship, and I was playing awfully well at Turnberry, better than I did at U.S. Open. In the U.S. Open I didn't play very well in the first two rounds. And I went to the practice tee and I made three good swings, and the light switch turned on and I hit the ball very well the last two rounds. But the U.S. Open was the tournament I always wanted to win most.
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