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July 15, 2009
MARTIN PARK: Ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to welcome the five-time Open champion, Tom Watson. It must be delightful to be back to the scene of your greatest victory in '77.
TOM WATSON: Obviously it is. It's a marvelous place. It's a place that brings back obviously great memories. It brings back memories of elation, of good play. I've played here pretty well a couple of times. I won the 2003 Senior British Open here, as well.
But the '77 British Open was one of my cherished victories. It was one of those weeks that I -- one of the rare weeks I had when I came into the golf tournament thinking I had a real good chance to win, just a real good chance to win. If I played my cards right I would. And as it turned out I did.
MARTIN PARK: What kind of changes have you seen over the years since you've been coming back here?
TOM WATSON: Well, the changes are directly related to the equipment. Today No. 4, the par-3, we're hitting 9-irons and 8-irons into the front part of the green, the first couple of days in practise rounds. Today the wind came back in our face, and I said to the boys I was playing with, I said, I hit a 4-iron in here on the Sunday round. I hit a cut 4-iron in there to the back part of the green there and hit it about six feet. Of course, Jack made his 25-footer, and I missed my six-footer. So he went 3-up at that time. Everybody said, 4-iron into this thing?
But the golf course is -- I have to say playing similar shots into most of the holes that we played in '77 with the exception of a couple of different holes, 14, 13 and 10 to a certain degree. 10 is a different hole now, as is 16 to a degree. But other than that, the golf course is playing pretty much with the same clubs in the bag that I played in 1977.
Q. Considering the outstanding success the at the inaugural British Open here, are you surprised it's only been held twice more since, and this is the third time?
TOM WATSON: I don't choose the venues. I don't know. But maybe they thought it was too easy when I shot 268, who knows? But they put the teeth in it.
In 2003 when I won here, I talked to Peter Dawson and I said, Peter, the length you're putting in the golf course is absolutely necessary with the distance the players are hitting the golf ball.
We're going to see some winds that may come up on Friday, Friday afternoon. Unfortunately I'm playing Friday afternoon. We're going to see some strong winds from a different direction; we're going to see the northwest winds that we haven't played in the practise rounds. So that changes the golf course.
That's what happens when you're a rookie playing the links golf over here. You play a practise round, if you get unlucky and play it with the same wind for three days and then the wind changes, most likely it's going to change direction, you're at a great disadvantage over the people that have played it before with the varying wind conditions. I mean, a great disadvantage. That could come to pass this week.
Q. The sun came out on the back nine for you. Was it all the same kind of weather as that Sunday in '77?
TOM WATSON: It was very similar. The wind conditions were very similar. The sun was a little bit lower in the sky in '77 than it was playing the practise round today in the middle of the day. But generally the same type of feeling. Quite a few less people out there and not quite as dusty.
Q. What is it about links golf that you like to play? Americans don't really play links golf that often. Why do you think they have such a good record in this championship?
TOM WATSON: Well, we don't have the links golf courses, first of all, in America; that's why we don't play links golf. We have a few but not too many.
American golf is American golf. We play through the air more than we do on the ground. Here you play on the ground. You play -- with the exception of a day like today you play through the air most of the day on a day like today, but you add a 20-mile-an-hour wind to a links golf course, playing downwind you've got to play along the ground. And that's something a little bit different than American golf. But we just don't have the courses.
How many links courses are there in the UK? Anybody have a guess? 500? I mean right along the coast and right on links, pure links land, 300.
Q. There's 150 in the world.
TOM WATSON: 150 in the world, true links courses. And how many of them are in the UK? About 147 (laughter)?
Q. I think there are about 35 in Ireland, and the rest will be here and in parts of the continent and Australia, parts of Australia.
TOM WATSON: You know, a true links golf course is links land; it's the land that's non-arable; you can't grow anything on it. We have certain types of land like that in the States, and I had the opportunity to go out and do a root plan for one of them, a course called the Dismal River Club, which is in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. And these are the old -- this is the old ocean, 200 million years ago, and it's just a bunch of sand dunes and just wonderful links, rolling, beautiful links land. And that's true links golf.
Crenshaw built a wonderful course there called Sand Hills Golf Club. And Jack, Dismal River, and a couple of other courses up in the Valentine area. And it's wonderful. It was a pleasure to do it.
Q. I read somewhere that you describe '77 as when you really fell in love with golf. I wonder in that context what impact did it have on the remainder of your career?
TOM WATSON: Well, '77, that was the year that I really felt that I could play with the big boys. I've said that a number of times. I could play with the best players. I won the Masters and the British Open beating the best player in the world. And that was my dream when I was a kid.
Every kid believes, I'm going to be like Tiger Woods. I'm going to beat Jack Nicklaus. And that's the dream that I had. And when I turned professional, I said, well, I better give it my best shot. And I worked as hard as anybody out there to try to achieve that.
And when '77 came along I made a slight adjustment in the golf swing in late '76, and things began really to fall into place early in '77, and then winning -- culminating here at the Open Championship at Turnberry, that was -- it gave me a platform. I reached a level that I hoped I would reach in my career.
I didn't fall in love with links golf, though, until really 1979, honestly. The luck of the bounce and the sideway bounces, I didn't like that. I didn't like it at all, even though I won two Opens before I -- I told myself in '79 at Royal Lytham, I said, You can't fight this. If you're going to fight this, you're never going to truly be a great success out here at it.
And I took it and I said, Well, you know, you've got to roll with the punches, as they say in boxing. And that's what I did. I didn't play very well in '79, but at least I rolled with the punches finally, and in '80, '82 and '83 I won.
Q. In what ways do you think today's equipment has made it easier to play links golf compared to the 1970s?
TOM WATSON: Just a distance factor, the straightness of the ball. The ball goes through the wind better, just that, which is a lot. If I were commissioner for a day or if were commissioner for ten years, I would do three things; I would roll the golf ball back 10 percent. The golf ball, we've exceeded the distance it should be going. I'd get rid of square grooves, and they're going to do that in the States. And the other thing is I would reduce the size of the head of the driver, say you can't have it 460; you can have it 240 or 250, and that's it.
Has anybody here taken an old persimmon head driver and hit it recently? I couldn't hit the sweet spot if it saved my butt. No way I could hit the sweet spot. They have that big old thing about like that (indicating), and you swing it as hard as you can, and if you mis-hit it off center it still goes out there. It makes you sloppy. The big-headed clubs make you a little sloppy.
That's what I would do. But is it going to be done? No. Square grooves, yes. But rolling back the golf ball, probably not. And the big-headed driver, probably not.
Q. The winners here have been all players that have been on top of their game when they've won. And the top has come to the top at this golf course. Is it because it's got these special peculiarities, like the reverse camber on the fairway and the greens that collect in bowls so you do have a chance with your second shots if you're good enough to get on the fairway?
TOM WATSON: If you're playing well, you've got a chance. And Nick Price, Greg Norman -- in fact, Greg played probably one of the finest rounds of golf in Open history, finish out that 63 in that windstorm, three-putting the last two holes. It's incredible. I'm out there shooting 75, and I think that's a pretty good round of golf. And he is shooting 63.
But Nick was playing very well, I was playing very well. As I said, coming into the tournament it was one of the few tournaments I could count, and I can count them on one hand, where I went into the tournament feeling I was going to win this tournament if I did -- I was hitting on all cylinders and I could win that tournament right there. It was mine to take from the first tee on.
Other tournaments it's just a horse race, where you go and you kind of wait it out. You try to get a little stretch, try to get a little run. Bruce, my caddie, was always saying, All we need is just a little run today, birdie, birdie, par, birdie. You know, a birdie, par, par, birdie, birdie, par, birdie, something like that, where we have a little run where we can push ahead of the rest of the field.
In Turnberry it was just kind of a waiting game; this is going to happen. Let's wait it out and things are going to turn around and we're going to shoot some good scores here. And it started on Saturday and ended on Sunday; it was just a great run.
Q. Is that why Turnberry is special, because it produces special winners?
TOM WATSON: Well, the history of it is. It is. The greens -- as you say, some of the greens collect, but then some of the greens are rejection. Look at 13. 13 is a huge green, but it plays very small. It plays very small. The greens here, it's a great collection of greens here. There's not a lot of slope on the greens. They're pretty flat. You have sides of the greens that you just don't want to miss the ball.
And of course you don't want to miss the ball in the rough. I said yesterday doing an interview overseas that the main thing here is to keep it out of the rough. That's common sense. The rough is really, really bad in places. You drive the ball in the fairway, you're going to have a chance to win.
So you go out there and you watch the players on the practise tee, those that are driving the ball well and playing it -- and there's a strategy to this golf course. Talking with people about Tiger, Tiger's strategy is probably not to hit more than two or three drivers a round, given the wind conditions.
Look what he did at Hoylake. It's the management -- more than anything you win at links golf by managing it properly. That's what I think. There are a couple of tournaments I won where I wasn't playing particularly well but I managed it properly. And there are others I was playing very well, such as '77.
Q. You referenced square grooves. Greg Norman came in before, and he said that he's looking forward to this tournament, but he's really looking to next year because the square groove rule will be in place, that essentially it will level the playing field. I don't know how much thought you've given to that.
TOM WATSON: It's going to be interesting to see how the square grooves work. I was playing with Brent Snedeker today, and he said, Out of the rough I couldn't hit the ball very far. In fact, I hit it shorter out of the rough from what used to be a flatter lie, with the square grooves. I hit it shorter with a wedge and 9-iron, in particular, than off a normal lie. You would think just the opposite; you'd still hit the ball farther.
And now he's playing with the non-square grooves and he's hitting the ball kind of the way he thought -- well, he used to. You get that extra distance from the rough. And a lot of times that was to an advantage.
I remember when square grooves came out, you had an advantage. You hit the ball a little bit in the rough right there you had 178 yards uphill into the wind, you could hit that little flier up there and it was a lot easier shot. You'd say a 6-iron flier uphill and it was like a 4-iron from the fairway uphill. And that's how we used to have to play.
So there's some guesswork, but we knew it was going to happen. We didn't know how much it was going to happen. It could go -- you could hit a jumper that went 10 yards farther, you could hit a jumper that goes 30 or 40 yards farther. And how does it know? You don't know.
Q. Last year Greg Norman came surprisingly to back into Open contention. This course is a course that rewards experience and shot making. Is this a course where you could feel you could come back and do very well?
TOM WATSON: Yes, it is. The quick answer is yes, it is. I felt that I could play the links golf courses. Even though they lengthened them some, I still have a chance here, unlike a course like Augusta. There are a lot of guys that can't play Augusta; even the kids can't play Augusta. It takes them right out of the game.
But here the experience of playing in different winds, that's the key. With the rookies out here that haven't played this before, and we're going to get some different cross winds and different winds, the most important thing in golf has always been hit the ball the right weight, hit the ball the right distance. With the varying winds here, that's going to throw -- it's going to make it tough for the players that haven't experienced the west northwest winds we're going to experience Friday, Friday afternoon.
Q. The exhilaration you felt at the climax in '77, the final round, the famous remark you made to Jack, do you think golf is missing to a degree the aspect of a great player like Nicklaus being challenged seriously by a group of challengers? Do you think this phase of Tiger's career is sort of missing that element?
TOM WATSON: Well, that's for you to write. But there is that element that who is challenging Tiger? You're always asking. Everybody in this room says, Who is going to challenge him? Well, you're going to have some people challenge him and beat him. But he's beaten everybody a lot more than anybody's ever beaten anybody in this game of golf, professional golf. He just has a run that's been unparalleled.
Q. It was a little different back in the late '70s, wasn't it, because someone like you was coming -- you were coming along. There was a real sustained challenge to Jack, and the fact that he won a few more majors historically is astonishing, the resilience on his part?
TOM WATSON: It is. He won majors from 1962 to 1986. That's a long stretch, 24 years. I had a stretch where, I won seven years or eight years, something like that. Arnold was the same way; he won all his tournaments in a short period of time.
Q. Does Tiger need the definition of a challenge presented?
TOM WATSON: Does he need a definition of a challenge? Yeah, it would give you something to write about. It would give you something to write about, for sure.
And there's -- and don't underestimate the people who are out there trying to challenge Tiger, please don't. Tiger is -- to me, he's the best player that's ever played the game, and I've said that. And Jack's admitted that. He said he's the best. You're seeing an era of golf, you ought to be pleased that you can write about this.
But I understand the issue is trying to find somebody, let's make this a two-man race or a three-man race. And that -- but I can assure you one thing, Tiger doesn't really care a whole hell of a lot about that (laughter).
Q. Back to that remark that you made to Jack in '77, had you ever found yourself with that kind of perspective in the moment, before that, since then, just knowing that this is -- like you said, this is what it's about? It seems oddly introspective.
TOM WATSON: Well, actually today, just on the golf course, beautiful day, just playing a practise round. This is what it's all about. I said on the tee, I said, "I love my office." I'm really grateful to be able to play a game for a living. I love my office. And this is what it's all about.
Q. I presume it's health reasons that caused you to play this championship intermittently in the past few years. Have you given any thought to how much longer you might play as a past champion?
TOM WATSON: I'm restricted to age 60, which comes up in September, so I'll be playing St. Andrews. That will be my last Open Championship, unless I play well at St. Andrews or play well here and maybe have a sixth championship under my belt after Sunday. Now, that would be a story, wouldn't it? (Laughter.) You almost had that story last year with Greg Norman.
So I'm restricted by the rules of the R&A that I can't play anymore after 60 if I don't qualify.
Q. As a follow-up, if I may, you undoubtedly saw Nicklaus went out at St. Andrews. How did you appreciate that?
TOM WATSON: Just typical Jack. He birdied the last hole. You always expected Jack to birdie the last hole, 18. I don't care how tough a hole was, Jack always birdied the last hole. He was great at that.
Q. You've seen a bit of Greg this week. What was your take on his performance last year, and do you think that -- he's the sort of bloke who writes these extraordinary stories. Has he still got a chance do you think in this tournament?
TOM WATSON: Sure he does. A bad weather player, Greg was par excellence. He was really good in bad weather. The rounds he played, as I said, I mentioned here, the Friday round here in '86 at St. Georges. He played the last round there, what, in 65? That was just -- he has just played some wonderful rounds of golf in tough, tough conditions.
I played with him yesterday, and he's putting the ball very well. That's one thing that -- links golf, you've all played it, it seems like the ball rolls a little straighter in links golf. You have to hit it a little bit harder and it goes a little bit straighter. The greens aren't as fast, so you don't play as much -- your ball is not going to break a lot as it slows down. Here the slower greens, straighter putts. You're not playing it outside the hole, you're playing at the edge or inside the hole when there's a break.
And when you're hitting the ball solid and you're making the ball roll, boy, you're going to make a lot of putts. Mis-hitting the putt, you're not going to make a lot of putts on these greens. And right now Greg is rolling the ball very, very well, and he's driving the ball well. Greg has always been a great driver of the golf ball. He could always put the ball in play off the tee.
Last year was just the toughest conditions in the last round. Padraig Harrington didn't miss -- he rarely missed a shot under 25- to 35-mile-an-hour winds the whole day. It was his tournament the last day. Greg didn't play all that well there, and not a whole lot of other people scored that well that last day except for Padraig.
Q. I have a question about strategy. Other than straight driving, what type of player does this golf course favor? And are there a couple of different ways you can play it, underneath the bunkers, over the bunkers?
TOM WATSON: Sure there is. You can definitely play this course short of the bunkers and still play it. For instance 8, you can play short at 8. And you can play your longer shot into 8. 10, you don't have to challenge it at all and play a longer shot into 10.
The one hole that is disappointing is 17. They moved the tee so far back that it's going to be a very boring hole, par-5, unless you get a strong, pretty strong wind from the north, which we're not going to probably have. It plays so long from back there that you can't reach the green in two, or there may be a handful of players that can reach the green in two. But there's death up there; if you're trying to go for the green and you miss it right, there's two pot bunkers up there.
So it's going to play driver or 3-wood off the tee, 8-iron layup, pitching wedge or 9-iron third shot for 95 percent of the field. That's how it's going to play. And there are going to be a whole lot of divots right down there just short of that bunker, right down in that hole. So you hope when you lay it up you're not going to lay it up in a sand divot.
If they play the middle tee, then maybe -- yeah, if they played the middle tee there, it would give them enough distance that it would allow them to get up maybe a little bit closer to that fairway bunker up there. Right now it's 330 off the back tee, that one that was in the middle of the fairway. They moved that back. Put it up in the middle, and that will allow the players to try to have a go at that green.
That green has had a lot of history with eagles, Nick Price; birdies, Tom Watson. You know, hitting the ball up there in two. It's not an easy driving hole. That fairway is narrow. As they say in Texas, it's "narrah."
Q. You were talking about persimmon drivers earlier. As you look back over your career playing links golf and your five Open Championships, what's been your favourite golf club in your bag or most important club in your bag since winning these championships?
TOM WATSON: Well, it just has to be the driver. I mean the main thing here is to keep it out of the bunkers. And it necessarily hasn't been the driver very much. At times I played at Muirfield where I took the driver out of my bag -- I didn't take it out of the bag, but I didn't drive the ball very much there. I laid up short of the bunkers constantly, did not even challenge the bunkers there.
And that was one of those tournaments I went in there and had a great practise round there on Wednesday and I was making every putt. And we go into the library there at Greywalls and we were sitting in there having a Coke, and in comes Arnold Palmer and Jerry Pate and I think it was Andy Bean, and it could have been Ray Floyd, but I think it was Andy Bean. And Jerry had just won a bunch of money from Arnold. If you knew Arnold, Arnold hated to get beat, I mean, he just hated it.
And he was sitting there kind of like this (indicating), and Jerry was sticking the needle in him just constantly, like this. And finally Arnold says, "Tommy, come on, let's go out and take these clowns on for another nine holes." This is Wednesday (laughter). This is the Wednesday before the tournament.
So we go out, and Jerry hits a perfect drive down the middle, Arnold rope hooks it to left, I push it out in the right stuff, lay up short of the bunkers, Arnold is chopping it around. I knock it about 25 feet behind the hole, Jerry hit a beautiful 5-iron in there about 12 feet or something like that. I make my putt, he misses it, and we just absolutely killed them after that (laughter). I made every putt.
And coming off that -- and Arnold got his revenge, let's put it that way. That's part of the story.
But the real part of the story is that when I got off that green after playing 27 holes that day, the Wednesday before the tournament, I knew that if I just stayed out of the bunkers, my putter -- I'd win the tournament, because I was making everything, making everything.
And it came to pass. I mean, the first round was a tough, tough round, and I shot 68 that first round along with Trevino. I think we lapped the field by three. But the winds calmed and that putter was -- everything was going in.
Q. I think you were upset with the -- I think you upset the secretary, didn't you?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, we upset the secretary then a little bit, too, after that. Fortunately I didn't get caught. The rest of those guys got caught. But you fellows handled it very well. You gave them a raft.
Q. Back in '77 when play was halted and you were sitting on the rocks, what was the margin between you?
TOM WATSON: In '77 when play was called because of lightning after No. 8 there in the Saturday round this was, did we talk? No, we didn't really talk. We were just kind of looking up at the sky, waiting for the storm to pass.
Q. Did you really think at that stage that in your mind that it was going to be a match play? Because no one else was challenging, really.
TOM WATSON: At that point was it a match play event? Not yet. Not yet. It became match play pretty early in the round on the Sunday round.
Q. Weren't you invited to Paddy Hamner's office after play?
TOM WATSON: No, that wasn't me, that was Ben Crenshaw.
Q. You played then?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, what happened after Muirfield -- the story is well written, that I'd been in the room celebrating and was walking in my coat and tie to eat dinner there at the course there. And here come a whole bunch of people out of the dining area, and it was a big group of people. And I see Ben with a couple of hickory-shafted clubs under his arm, just like the old -- you see in 1860.
I said, "What are you doing?" "I've got some hickory-shafted clubs and a few gutty balls, and I'm going to go play the 10th and the 18th." I said, "Come on, Crenshaw, let's see if you can get your money back." So I went and got a few clubs out of my bag. So I used steel-shafted clubs, he used the hickory-shafted clubs and a golf ball.
He cut the gutty ball on his second shot at No. 10, he halved it. It split, you know. And there's an old rule, as maybe a few of you know, that if your golf ball splits in half, what do you do? Exactly right, you play with the larger piece.
But that back rule, back then, it meant something. And that's what happened. So he started playing with a regular golf ball after that. We played 10 and 18. Got piped in at 18.
And I was hungry, so right after I finished there, we walked into the dining room to eat, of course then Paddy came right out and he saw that Polly Crenshaw was aerating the greens with her four-inch stiletto high heels. He said, I think this tournament is over. He went through that.
But God rest his soul, he took it with a good nick, he did all right with it.
Q. It's been 32 years since your duel with Jack. There's not an Open goes by when it's not mentioned and there's probably not a day that goes by that it's not mentioned somewhere in the world. Do you think it was the greatest afternoon in golf and maybe one of the greatest --
TOM WATSON: No, it's not for me to write about. I was fortunate to be able to play some of my best golf against the best player in the world and ended up winning a few times.
Q. But when anybody looks back on golf, that afternoon is held up probably in the top three moments everywhere and in sport. Do you recognise you were part of an amazing afternoon in the history of sport?
TOM WATSON: Well, it was pretty good. It was pretty good theatre, let's put it that way. It was one of the moments of my career; that's what I have to say. It was one of the top moments in my career.
As I said, it was probably the top three. The chip-in at Pebble Beach and winning the Kansas City Men's Match Play when I was 14.
Q. What has the affection of the Scottish galleries meant to you throughout your career here? I think you've won seven events organised by the R&A in Scotland, four Opens and three Senior Opens. Was that affection from the galleries, was that a big part of your success here?
TOM WATSON: It started at Carnoustie, in the Saturday round, my final round -- it turned out to be my second to the final round. A little girl, next-door neighbor, we'd rented a house in Monifieth. And she came over and she gave me an aluminum foil with some heather, and said, "This is for good luck." And the way our neighbors -- they didn't want to bother us, and after I won the championship they reluctantly came over and knocked on the door and just wanted to say hello and said they were really happy for me.
And that's the way it started, And that's the way it's always been.
Q. Do you sense you're a kindred spirit with folk here?
TOM WATSON: Any professional golfer who doesn't feel a kindred spirit here in Scotland probably doesn't have an understanding of the game. If you're a professional golfer and you play the game for a living, it's the fabric of your life. It's the fabric of life over here. People understand the game, even if they don't play it.
And that's the beauty of it here. That's why I love it here. I wish I could understand the language better, though. It's still -- there was a guy on the golf course today, and I asked him twice to repeat himself. And finally I just (indicating), I couldn't understand a word he said. And if that person is here, I apologise (laughter).
MARTIN PARK: Tom, thanks for a fascinating interview.
End of FastScripts