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October 26, 2007

Denis Watson


THE MODERATOR: Denis, 69 yesterday and 64 today, including a great finish; four straight birdies. Maybe talk about your day and where you are heading into the weekend.
DENIS WATSON: Obviously excited about where I am. At the beginning of the day, I warmed up really well and was feeling confident on the first tee about how I was going to hit my tee shot, and I hit it about a foot into the rough, and I guess you guys know the rough is miserable, and I was thinking to myself, let's not have this again.
I feel like I've been a foot in the rough so many times here lately. And I hit a good shot out, I got a 9-iron on the ball and got it to go 126, 127 yards and got on it the green and two-putted. That got me settled. Two birdies on the next two holes with good, solid play, and I was kind of cruising, hitting the ball just a little further away from the flag than I wanted to.
The ball was spinning back a lot on the first nine. I couldn't quite get a handle on it. It was difficult having known the greens were firmer to try and throw the ball past the hole, especially with the back pin locations. I was trying to be patient, and I hit a brilliant shot for me at nine, a hard shot with that off-speed wedge shot, where you hit a soft wedge from 85 yards and not have it spin too much and have it go way back down the green.
I had a great shot and made the birdie. I hit a great shot at ten, and I think it jumped up and spun back, and I had a 10-footer across the green and caught a lucky break at the next hole with my second shot, 85 yards to the pin from the left rough up on the hill.
And I was looking at the book, and you could see if you hit it right at a pin it was going to -- the slope went back up into the top of the green more, and it would feed off -- so sometimes you have to suck it up and hit it left of the pin so you've got more green to work with, and I got very lucky. It trickled down on the green, and I made a 4-foot putt for birdie, and I got fooled on the next hole.
After a good tee shot I hit it and it spun back 30 feet, and I didn't think it was going to do that. Missed a short putt on 13 for birdie, and somebody whistled right in the middle of my backswing, and I just flinched a little bit and hit it fat in the bunker and made bogey.
I was mad at myself for being affected by the whistle thing, because at this stage in your life in golf you should be able to hit through anything, you know? Then I misjudged the bunker shot, made a classic mistake. I didn't look in the book and see where the slope was, and I thought I could fly it up to the hole and stop it, and it bounced hard because that green was firm, and came 20 feet from the hole.
Hit a great shot 2 and a half, 3 feet at 15, and 16 I had a bad lie on the fairway, ball got stuck in the hole on a side hill, and I didn't hit a good shot. I made a great 15, 20-footer for birdie.
I hit 9-iron, almost went in the hole at 17 and decide to challenge 18 today, because it's a down breeze and with a right-hand pin, I thought if I got it past the middle of the fairway I would have an open shot, and fortunately I hit a good drive and it was, again, one of those off-speed shots where I knew the green was soft, and I was trying to take spin off the ball, so I went up one club and hit a soft one. I was really, really happy with that shot at the last hole.

Q. What do you hit on 18 out?
DENIS WATSON: A gap wedge from 110.

Q. Who is that on the bag there, a law firm? In the room there on the bag?
DENIS WATSON: That's my wife's sister, her law firm. I didn't have any contracts coming out of the closet, so I said, why don't we put your law firm on the bag and on the hat and get some exposure one way or another. And it's been a wonderful thing. We've had a few phone calls.

Q. I know when you won earlier this year, it was emotional, and you've spoken about you hadn't won in 22 years or something.
DENIS WATSON: 23 years.

Q. Did you ever foresee that happening when you were playing? In other words, when you came back did you think you had reached that peak again?
DENIS WATSON: No. It's an interesting thing with golf, you know, golfers talking about having goals, they want to win, they want to win twice and a major and all that stuff. I threw all that stuff out. My goal became just to go play and play to my potential. And, you know, my friend and my teacher, David Leadbetter, he said to me when I started working hard after shoulder surgery last year -- so November.
I started swinging quite well, was working hard and he said to me, "You know, if you can swing like this, if you can hit like this, you're going to do fine. Go after it," he said, "Once you get there, you'll remember how to play."
And, you know, it was an interesting thing. With Susan being a psychologist, she was always trying to keep me away from having my expectations get up anywhere. When I went to Hawaii I was playing well. I hadn't played very much golf. I hit balls in the snow in California three days before I left to go to Hawaii. It snowed a couple of days out at the TPC out there.
The wind was blowing 50 miles an hour, and I was out there hitting balls and having a blast and hitting it fantastic. And I was going, "Man, if I can hit like this, I will have a chance to score well." Well, you know, after I shot 65 the second round in Hawaii, you know, you start going, "Wow, I got this."
But fortunately my wife is going, look, it's a great round, nobody can unring that. Go play the last round and enjoy it. It's like the old cliche, you've heard it 100 times, play one shot at a time; don't get ahead. We all like to delve on the last bad shot, so trying to get away from those dumb mistakes that golf professionals make.

Q. In '85 in the U.S. Open, were you ranked there? Am I wrong?
DENIS WATSON: I finished second, yeah.

Q. You had a putt that hung on the lip?
DENIS WATSON: Yeah, long story.

Q. Yeah, I'm trying to remember.
DENIS WATSON: That was my infamous moment, so unfortunately, they changed the rule a little bit, not enough, but it's a stupid rule. You know, that was what I was most remembered for, for a while. It would come up at U.S. Opens and things like that. Now I changed that. Now they have a memory of a putt that went in! So it's a nice change.

Q. How satisfying has this year been given everything you've endured?
DENIS WATSON: Unbelievably great. You know? You can't put it into words. It validates your desire to be a golf professional and pursue this all those years with failure. As golf professionals we have a lot of failure, but to go and struggle and fight the surgeries and want to play and come back and play almost well and fall back into the surgery rehab thing and you're going, am I ever going to get ahead?
And coming out on the Champions Tour, I was ready to play golf. My shoulder froze up, I couldn't get it rehab'd out, and I worked every day. And my friend in Vegas said, "It's not getting better; it's getting worse. We need to get this looked at." So I had this nasty surgery and six months of rehab.

Q. When do you have surgery?
DENIS WATSON: Jan of last year.

Q. Of '06?

Q. How long did it take before you could swing a club again?
DENIS WATSON: About 6 months. I wasn't really happy. I put my mind to -- I'm very good. Guys can be singled minded, and I've always been that way. I'm a perfectionist. My mind became focused on rehab, go to rehab, do the exercises at home, that was my whole life -- and go to dinner.
And, you know, I was a little bit insane sometimes, but, you know, we had a life with the kids, so it was always really busy. Five kids running around the house you're never short of things to do. That was the good part of it. I spent a lot of time at home with the kids.

Q. First round after the surgery, what did you shoot?
DENIS WATSON: We went -- August we were in -- oh, gosh, we were in Colorado.

Q. Did you play seven months, then, after the surgery?
DENIS WATSON: Beginning of August, about seven months, yeah.

Q. And did you play well enough where you said, hey, I've still got it?
DENIS WATSON: No. I lost four or five golf balls, and I was hitting it all over the place, but I was happy I could hit. Susan and I played every day. We went out and played. I didn't hit very much, practice very much, just warmed up, went out and played golf. After about a week and a half, two weeks of playing every day, I went out one day and made seven birdies in nine holes -- it's a short golf course.
And I started to get the idea that I could hit it. I was hitting good shots and also some wides, but it was a good month of playing every day. Then I went to see David at some stage during there and started working on stuff, and then I had to back off a little bit because my shoulder was still sore, and my doctor said, just pace it back a little bit.
In fact, it was kind of fun. We went skiing in December, and I was skiing in the morning and resting in the afternoon, and then on the way to dinner in Aspen I would go to this friend's driving range, indoor driving range, just one net, the junior golf facility at the public course there in Aspen.
I hit balls for an hour, hit for 45 minutes, putted for 15 minutes, Susan would pick me up, and we would go have dinner. I worked on the things that David gave me, worked on my swing, and I didn't worry about it. I didn't have to worry about where it was going, so it was an interesting thing. When I did get to see David the 2nd or 3rd of Jan, I was hitting it pretty good. Still a battle. We were working on it.
I was playing with my Pro-Am guys on Wednesday, and I was hitting it all over the place and struggling, having some allergy problems, my swing got out of whack. I called David on my second to last hole, and I was getting over the ball and walking down the fairway, and I was going over the stuff that I normally said I have to work on, and I said to my guys, "I'm talking to Leadbetter; I'll be with you in a minute." It was funny. I call him and he says, this is your tendency, watch out for this. Work more this way.

Q. Obviously you have been a golfer for a long time. Playing and actually getting in position to win again, the mental part of that must be difficult. I've heard guys over the years say, boy, you gotta get back to where you were when you were younger, learning to win. So when you finally get into position, are you tentative, nervous, or do you say, hey, it's all back? What are you thinking?
DENIS WATSON: Well, you're all of those things, tentative, nervous, but my deal this year has been, you know, just give me a chance. I've said it a lot; give me a chance. Let me get into contention, let me see if I've still got it. And the first time I got into real contention, and I led the tournament for a while in the last round was in Birmingham, and I loved it. It was fantastic. I missed a short putt at 16, left one at 17 short, and I was grinding and going, man, you don't do that stupid stuff.
Then I almost holed my second shot at the last hole and didn't make birdie. But to get back into that position -- I mean, I got a little bit of that feeling in Hawaii, and I birdied the last two holes to get lucky when Kite bogeyed that second hole. Turtle Bay, yeah. It was a different feeling knowing you were in contention.
And I knew I was close to the lead, tied for the lead, but that's what you live for as a golf professional; that's where you want to be. These guys like Jay and Loren, they're contending every week, they get familiar with it and that's fun. Playing in the middle of the field sucks, nothing happening. When you're in the heat and in the hunt, that's the test. You want to see if you can pass the test every time. Sometimes you screw up, sometimes you play well.

Q. Winning, and secondly being here, top 30, must be satisfying and a mark of achievement?
DENIS WATSON: You know why? I started the year trying to figure out which tournaments I was going to get into, and I didn't get into Naples; I didn't get into the Ginn, and it was frustrating. I didn't have a chance to get into the Legends, because I missed those tournaments. And it's frustrating with the past winners' category that we have, and fortunately it worked out for me. I played right at the right time.
When I finished third in Birmingham, we were studying the numbers, was I going to get in the U.S. Senior Open or was I going to have to qualify? I had to make that $103,000, and I made it to 16 on the money list to be exempt for the U.S. Senior Open. It was a wonderful thing. That was a pump-up moment. It was like, "Great! I'm in the Open!" And then all of the sudden I win the next week, and things have been pretty good.

Q. What were your goals like -- when you win three times, I imagine you're kind of on top of the world.
DENIS WATSON: I worked with Bob a lot, and I took a lot of flack for being outspoken about working with a sports psychologist back then. He talked a lot about having those goals. Those are nice goals, but those don't take care of business. You've got to bring your goals back to things that you can accomplish.
And, you know, fortunately Susan has always tried to get me to think that way where, you know, you've got to be nice to yourself, which -- it's difficult for a golfer to be nice to themselves, because you screw up so much. And you are around guys who are berating themselves and not nice to themselves when they miss a putt or a shot, and so it's hard to be nice to yourself. It's hard to have accomplishable goals, small goals, like if I could stay focused on one shot at a time for half the time that I'm playing, that's a goal.
And then if I can do that, I can go a little more and not be so worried about the big picture. Today was perfect. I didn't know what I had shot when I got done. You know? That was perfect for me. That's great. I looked at my card, and I said, gee, I birdied the last four holes. When you go into that state, it's a wonderful thing, where you're not thinking that much, you're just thinking about what you've got to do with that particular shot.
I hear golfers over and over again saying when they get into that moment where they're not ahead, they're not behind, they're just right there where they are in that moment. That's my goal, revolving around that, trying to get to that spot, be happy with myself. Because it's easy to be mad at yourself when you hit bad shots, because you're going to hit them. It's golf.

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