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July 14, 2010

Tom Watson


MARTIN PARK: Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to a man who needs very little introduction, Tom Watson. Welcome back to the media centre at the Open Championship.
TOM WATSON: Thank you very much.

MARTIN PARK: A year on from the drama at Turnberry. How do you find the links out there this week so far?
TOM WATSON: Today was under water, but other than that -- I played three practise rounds here. I started on Sunday when it was blowing 45 and got the full brunt of the winds coming out of the west, and now we have the winds coming out of the east and rain and a different golf course from that. I've gotten my three practise rounds in, and same old St. Andrews with the exception of actually 14. I think I can deal with the length off the tee at 17 without any problem because with my old age I've finally figured out that the only way to play that hole is to lay up like Jack Nicklaus told me to 20 years ago, and didn't follow his advice very closely a couple times.
14 is the hole that's going to create some problems from the standpoint that when they move the tee back into an east wind, it's going to be very difficult for most of the field to carry Hell's Bunker. Now we'll be going into the 4th fairway over there causing all kinds of delays coming in off the tee, like this, and from that standpoint it's going to make it play probably not the way they should play it. I just don't like the idea of trying to be able to hit a 3-wood over there and trying to get up around the 14th green. That's a hard green to hit with any club in your hand, much less a 3-wood.
That's the one change that I think that they'll probably -- they'll consider pretty strongly. Maybe they won't use the back tee there. 17 they already said they might not use the back tee at 17. That's the way I've gone into looking at the Championship this year. My form is not as good as it was last year to be frank with you. I'm putting pretty well, but my form, my ball-striking isn't quite where it was last year. I was very comfortable about the way I was hitting it last year. So we'll just see how it progresses this week.
It was getting better yesterday at the end of the practise round, so I feel pretty strongly that things will sort themselves out and I'll hit the ball reasonably well. I just hope that I can get into that 90 percent feeling where I'm hitting 9 out of 10 shots the way I want to rather than that 50 or 60 percentile, where I've been the last few days.
That's where I am. That's where I am right now as far as the state of my game is concerned. I'm really looking forward to putting myself to the test at St. Andrews once again. This is the seventh time I've played here in the Championship, and it might be my very last, at St. Andrews, let's put it that way.

Q. Here at the home of golf, how important is it that Tiger Woods sends out a message that he respects the game and his on-course demeanor, et cetera?
TOM WATSON: Well, basically I said what I needed to say about Tiger Woods. The one thing that you should be writing about Tiger Woods right now is that he's won the Championship the last two times he's played here and that he's probably the odds-on favourite to win it again.

Q. You had the great run here or at Turnberry, and then you come in and play well both at the Masters and at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open. I mean, would a high finish, if not a win here, really be like a great threesome for you this year?
TOM WATSON: It would. It certainly would. It was a special time at Augusta this year, having my son on my bag, and I had him on my bag again at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. I'll probably play Augusta again. I won't be playing Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open again, I know that.
You know, there are certain places that I've enjoyed over my career where I've played and had some wonderful experiences. Obviously the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was at the top of my list or one of the tops of my list. Playing at Augusta, I've had success there and had my son on my bag there. It was a very special time. And here at St. Andrews. It would be a great triumvirate. It would be a great triumvirate if I did well here at age 60 to do what I did.

Q. Doug Sanders has said many times that every day of his life he's reminded of the missed putt in 1970 here at St. Andrews. How many times a day are you reminded of your heartaches last year at Turnberry? How many times do people want to talk about that?
TOM WATSON: Well, of people our age, a lot. They come up to me, and they say, Tom, it was a wonderful -- I couldn't stop watching what happened last year. It's been a wonderful time talking with people who frankly said, you've given me hope that I can still do it at my age. I'm the same age as you, Tom; I'm 60 years old and I've given up on the game or given up on something else, and you've literally given me some hope and actually desire to keep at it, whatever it takes to keep at it, because it's just that number.
The other sidelight of it is that I've had a bunch of young kids come up to me. I hadn't had any young kids come up to me for years. It was always kids coming up to me saying, "My grandmother loves you." (Laughter.)
But these kids came up and said, "Hey, Mr. Watson, that was great last year at the British Open." That's been a wonderful sidelight to what happened last year.

Q. Just wondering as a traditionalist and a lover of links, how do you feel about the changes they've made to 17, to 14, to 2? Are you okay with that, with the golf course evolving?
TOM WATSON: Yes, I am. I think it's very necessary with the distance the golf ball goes. It's necessary. They've taken real good statistics as far as where people drove the ball in the last Open Championship here in 2005. Now, granted, back then the fairways were running faster than they are now. But at 14, you know, it was running out. You could hit it all the way to the end of the fairway up there if you really caught one. It was going 330, 350, 360, 380 off the tee there. You're not going to have that here this week, especially as I talk about the winds, east wind -- if we have an east wind, 14 is -- if you play the back tee, it's going to really present -- everybody is going to have to hit it with a 16 or 20-mile-an-hour, wind they're going to have to hit it left over onto the 4 fairway and then carry it onto the green.
Again, sensible tee placement is necessary for that. And maybe they want it to play that way. But that's going to slow up play a lot, and they recognise that fact. I was talking with some people, the Championship Committee, last night. They recognise that that could slow up play a lot.
You know, the uniqueness of St. Andrews, if you've ever played it or seen it, you have the option of going left off every tee, like this, and playing it from the composite 18 fairway. The 4th hole is the 14th hole, the 13th hole is the 5th hole, and you play it from the different fairways. You can play it that way. But the problem is you're hitting into the groups coming in this way. That's the unique feature of St. Andrews.
But from a strategy standpoint, sometimes that's the proper way to play it. We'll see what happens at 14.
But I concur that -- they had to add some length to the golf course. Just in case they caught the conditions they did in 2005.

Q. On that subject of strategy, some of the players have talked about a few select places on the course where there's a little more rough than there used to be or the rough is a little thicker like on 17. In your time playing here, are there some areas where you'd like to place a shot for certain hole locations that are now no longer fairway? Are there any, like 12 or 14 maybe that come to mind?
TOM WATSON: As I recall 17 didn't have the rough as they do now, but again, 17 is 17. We've played that type of rough now at 17, I believe, the last two Open Championships. I know the last one we did. It was narrow through there. It's not a big issue.
When I first played St. Andrews, the course was definitely a bigger factor than it is now. In '78, the course to the right of No. 4, No. 3 and No. 2, you couldn't leak it to the right there with that left-to-right southwest wind. You could not leak it to the right or you're going to be dead in the gorse, unplayable. They took all that gorse out, I think, between '78 and '84. That's when they took it out, and they've kept it out.
That's not the factor. In fact, I think Henry Cotton played in -- who did he play here?

Q. Sarazen.
TOM WATSON: Henry Cotton played Sarazen here in the Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, and they did an overhead shot of the fairways at that time, and these fairways were just lined with gorse. It was gorse here and gorse there. For expediency of play and even fairness of play, they've taken a lot of that gorse out.

Q. Would you expect that Morris' record as the oldest major champion would fall at some point in the next 10 or 20 years? Is there any way to predict that about the lengthening of careers and what you did last year?
TOM WATSON: I guess that -- I hope so. I hope the trend continues. God, I hope a 60-year-old guy can do that. That would be pretty cool. (Laughter.)

Q. You've been to a lot of dinners at Augusta through the years. Can you talk about the experience last night here at the R & A clubhouse with all the former champions. And how disappointing is it that Seve wasn't a part of that or this event this afternoon?
TOM WATSON: Well, first of all, Seve did video an announcement to -- it was shown to us last night. I don't know if you've seen it or not. Have you seen it, anybody? He said in very short -- it was less than a minute. He said, "I wish I could be there. I wish I had the energy to be there," and he wished us all the best of luck in it. It was sad. It was sad to see him. He's obviously struggling at this point, and it's sad to see that. Seeing him -- I remember the cheer that went up when I was -- just before I tried to make my par putt at 17 in 1984, I looked at the 18th green, and there he was (indicating fist pump.)
I said, "Uh-oh, I have to make it now. I have to make this putt." I had a pretty good putt, but I didn't make it. I remember that.
And I certainly remember Seve on TV for the first time. I hadn't seen him at Birkdale in 1976. I watched him play the final round there because I missed the 54-hole cut, and I watched him play in the final round, and he was -- he played with abandon. He played with just -- just hit it hard, just went after it, just like I did when I was his age, 19 years old.
We had our contests over the years, and I remember playing him at Oakmont. Playing with him at Oakmont, playing with him there, and we played Ryder Cup matches in 1983. He was in the Ryder Cup match down in Florida. It's sad to see where he is right now, but what a wonderful record he's had.
I think beyond that, that tone, it was a very, very jovial time last night. I sat down at length and talked to Roberto and talked to him about Argentina and the golfers coming from there and the status of Argentina, how the country is doing. He was recognised, Peter Thomson was recognised, and John Daly was very recognisable. (Laughter.) Of course, that's what you want to know.

Q. In a quiet moment when you do reflect on that miss at the 18th last year, has it had any impact on your life? You've won lots of things, but has it made --
TOM WATSON: Frankly not. Honestly, it really hasn't. I think the question that was asked before that had more of an effect on my life than a miss is the loss. The loss is hard to take. As I said, it tore my guts up. But my guts have been torn up here out here in this game. They were torn up at Winged Foot in '74 after shooting 79 at the U.S. Open. And the following year in '75 at Medinah. I had the 36-hole lead and was playing okay.
After both those events, two weeks later in '74, I won my first tournament, the Western Open, and just four months later in '75 I won the Open Championship at Carnoustie, so it's kind of a bounce-back thing in me I guess you could say. Yeah, there have been some wonderful memories over the years, and this was a memory, I guess, in a positive sense, the way people responded to it. That's what I've taken from it.
I've lucked out and won some tournaments I shouldn't have won, in particular the '82 Open Championship at Troon. It was because of Nick Price's faltering on the last nine holes that I won the tournament. I put myself in position. As Nicklaus always -- basically Nicklaus always chastised me and said, "You won the tournament, even though somebody else didn't do that well, you won the tournament." There's a real satisfying way to win a tournament and there's a less than satisfying way to win a tournament. Turnberry was a satisfying way to win a tournament.

Q. Coming back on that, is Michael going to be on your bag?
TOM WATSON: No, Michael is not caddying for me this week, but Neil Oxman, the same caddie who caddied for me last year, will be on my bag.

Q. So we might have a bounce-back effect there?
TOM WATSON: I hope so. Ox keeps me honest. He's just a bag toter, but he's more than that.

Q. Because of the pairings that you've been given by organisers in the last year or two you've sort of become an unofficial mentor to teenaged professional golfers. I wonder of those you've played with and know well, which of those you might have a chance to do well here and in the future?
TOM WATSON: Well, I played with Ryo Ishikawa and Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open in the first two rounds. Rory didn't play particularly well but Ryo played well. My assessment is both have a very strong future. I can't predict who might dominate, but they certainly have the tools to do it. Now it's just a matter of going out and doing it. How do you predict?
I like to see -- I like both swings. I think I like Ryo's putting stroke better than about any putting stroke I've seen out here. He reminds me of me when I was his age, straight back, straight through, and every putt solid. How do you do that? (Laughter.) How does one do that? I've forgotten. I've forgotten, and I can't do it again. (Laughter.)
I played with Manassero last year, with Matteo last year. He's had a very good start in his professional career. I like his action. He's not quite as long as either McIlroy or Ryo, but he's certainly straight, and he does things very simply and with I think a very good rhythm. I like his rhythm.

Q. You said this might be your last St. Andrews Open, but you're hoping it won't be, are you?
TOM WATSON: Well, I don't know how my body is going to be in five years. I don't know, is the Open Championship coming back to St. Andrews officially yet? It's been kind of like every five years, right? We don't know. So I can't predict. I think in five years -- Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, I think that might be the extent of my exemption goes to 2014 at Hoylake. I think that's where it would be.

Q. Without going into putting again, but with these big greens here, do you feel someone who can lag putt, if they've got those 60-foot, 70-foot, if that's going to be very, very important, isn't it?
TOM WATSON: I've said that many times. The lag putting here is crucial because you are going to have a lot of long putts on these greens. You can't play to the pin positions. You can't play at them. You have to play to the sides of them, and a good shot is 30 feet to the side, and that's perfect distance. You won't be that perfect distance on links golf, so you'll be 40 feet, is a good shot.
Then an average shot may be 55, 50 to 60 feet, and a bad shot is going to be 80 to 100 feet. So you'd better be pretty good.

Q. So what is the key to that?
TOM WATSON: Well, right now I'm doing it well. I think that what's key is -- something Roberto was talking about last night. We were talking about players, and who are the best average teen players and who are the best young players, and he said, "it's all here." (Indicating fingers.) It's all here, it's all touch. You've got to have mechanics, but you've got to have the feel. You can't teach it. Either you've got it or you don't. That's the answer to your question, who's got the feel for the distance here.
And when Woods played here in 2005, he was magnificent on his long putts. He was leaving them like this (indicating eight inches). As he would have said, "stone dead," stone dead out here. When you have that type of touch, you can knock it on the green stone dead, make your par and go on to the next hole.

Q. I saw you play a practise round the other day with Stewart, you guys on 18, walked over the bridge together, got your picture taken. Do you talk about last year, kid each other about it, or just practise?
TOM WATSON: You know, we really didn't talk about last year. I was watching Stewart prepare his round for the course, and he's played very well. He's putting the ball where he should. He's thinking the right way from a strategy standpoint, and he may be flying in under the radar. He's playing well.

Q. I bet you appreciated how he handled last year and how he said he'd even root for you?
TOM WATSON: Well, it was the nature of the beast last year, that's what it was. I've always liked Stewart and the way he is, the way he handles himself.

Q. John over there referred a moment ago to your being kind of an unofficial mentor being paired with these young players. Beyond that, do you follow their progress? Do you keep in touch with them? Do you email them? Is that something important to you, that sort of connection?
TOM WATSON: I don't have that direct of a connection, but I do see them at the events. I really haven't been able to talk to them at all about things, but with Rory at Dubai this year, we had a nice conversation about a few things. And Ryo, I had a chance to talk with him. His English is very good. And Matteo, I played a practise round with him at the Masters this year, and we were basically talking about the golf course, how to play the golf course. If you really kind of boil it down, what happens is how do you play these golf courses? You can ask some old guys like me how to play the golf course. I'm willing to share whatever, whatever I can.
I was sitting with a couple guys at lunch just before here, and they said "How do you play the 12th hole here?" And I said, "Maybe I've finally figured it out. There's two ways to play it. One is to lay up short of all the bunkers. The second is maybe into the wind is to hit it over the first set of bunkers and lay it up short of the second set of bunkers, or you can hit a driver," and that's where the confusion comes in. You get up on the tee, you can't see anything. You've got to go to your stroke saver. All right, it's 203 to the front bunkers, it's 220 to carry them and it's 240 before you get in the next ones, and then you basically have a game plan depending on the wind.
That's kind of the -- that's what you have to figure out. That's what Nicklaus was so good at doing. You probably know a little bit about when he first started, he took a page out of Deane Beman's book. Dean actually paced off yardages, and Jack did the same thing. He came and prepared himself better -- he always said, "I'm never going to be out-prepared when I play a golf tournament, a major championship." He certainly kept his word at that. Always went into Augusta early, the week before, to play. He would try to do the same things at all the major championship venues, go in there and play previous rounds at those venues. There's not enough that can be said for the proper preparation as far as strategy and how to play the golf course.

Q. You mentioned breaking through yourself years ago and winning a major. A lot of 20-somethings have done well this year, won tournaments, more than in some time. Can you talk about the challenge they face, though, to winning a major, how tough it was for you and how tough it might be for them even though they've won regular tournaments?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think it really boils down to handling the pressure. I think pressure -- you look at the U.S. Open this last month at Pebble Beach. It was like a NASCAR race that had a wreck in the final lap. I mean, everything just -- just smoke and oil and everything. It was a mess. And all of a sudden here comes the car that kind of winds its way through that, and bingo, Graeme comes through as the winner. That's the type of pressure that people are under in a major championship. And that's what causes those wrecks. I've been there before. I've had the wrecks, my personal wrecks out there. This is no different.
The beautiful thing about playing golf over here is that the weather so dictates the scores, and I can assure you when the weather gets bad and the wind gets blowing that those wrecks are going to happen with frequency.
You know, one of the great rounds of golf was Pádraig's round at Hoylake -- I'm sorry, Birkdale. That was a great round of golf. You don't know how good that round of golf was, how solidly he hits the ball and how closely he hit the ball to the hole on that tough golf course in those terrible, tough wind conditions. He just far and away surpassed the field.
Sometimes somebody is going to lead the whole pack in the last race, in the last part of the race, but more times than not, that pressure is going to get to them and they're going to have some wrecks. That's what they have to deal with is that pressure.

Q. For the American golfer in particular, St. Andrews is kind of a special place, and if this is to be your last, your seventh visit, I wonder how much this has changed in your time of playing it and what your impressions are now as compared to when you first came here.
TOM WATSON: Well, honestly, when I went out to play on Sunday, it was like I was playing it all over again for the first time. I'd just simply go out to try to learn how to play St. Andrews. St. Andrews is a hard course to understand, and you have to relearn it and relearn it and relearn it all the time. That's how I felt on Sunday and then Monday and yesterday. The same feelings come back.
There are just certain things that are very difficult to comprehend when you're out at St. Andrews, certain shots and certain places to go. That's all I was trying to do is just trying to define what I was trying to do. Did the very same thing in 1978 when I played it for the first time. I was doing the same thing the last three practise rounds.
As far as my history in the Open, I'm not thinking too much about -- I never think about my history in the Open. What I think about is I'm still here as a competitor to try to play the golf course the best I can, and that's what I'm doing. As I said, I wish I was playing as well as I was last year coming in here. I'm putting well but I'm not striking the ball that well, so that concerns me, especially in the wind. Frankly that's where I am right now. It's no different than what it was, except I've got an artificial hip, a little stiffer, don't hit the ball as far. I do have a little more experience under my belt.

Q. Your reflections on yesterday's graduation ceremony now that you've got another doctorate under your belt?
TOM WATSON: Another doctorate? Tell me my first one.

Q. Okay, your first, then. And going in, as well, you mentioned in your little speech, about having a chance to go in with Arnold Palmer.
TOM WATSON: Right, it was a wonderful experience yesterday being honoured with a doctorate of laws. Totally undeserved. The academics that go along with that, it left my family at least a generation ago probably. We did have lawyers in our family. We had attorneys in my family from my great grandfather Isaac Newton Watson to Raymond E. Watson. They were both very good attorneys. My dad broke the string there. He was preparing to be an attorney but the war got in the way, and he said, "Son, that was the greatest thing that ever happened, the war. First of all, I didn't get killed. Second of all, I hated being a lawyer. I didn't want to be a lawyer." (Laughter.)
But being there with Arnold, I made the comment that -- it was really kind of true, to Arnold, I congratulated Arnold, I said, "Arnold, you've always been my idol." When I grew up, I was a member of Arnie's Army, and then Jack came along and beat Arnie, and I couldn't stand Jack. I said, "Arnie, the only reason I beat Nicklaus all those times is because he beat you." He got a laugh out of that.
But it was a wonderful ceremony. Rupert Murdoch was honoured there for what he's done for golf in this community, and Jim Farmer, who was the honorary golf professional at St. Andrews was honoured, as well as Pádraig Harrington. It was a wonderful ceremony, done in Latin. I actually took five years of Latin, and I couldn't decipher a darn thing. Maybe a few of them, a few words came out. But it showed that my education certainly didn't deserve an honourary doctoralship at St. Andrews University.
But it was a wonderful ceremony, and it was done in great spirit, and I'm honoured and humbled to be a part of it, I really am.
MARTIN PARK: Tom, thank you for coming in today.

End of FastScripts

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