Open 2015: Tom Watson set for emotional St Andrews swansong

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Tom Watson adjusts his cap as he speaks to the media on Wednesday ahead of the Open
Watson was in an elegiac mood as he reflected on his 40 years - and five victories - at the Open
144th Open Championship
Venue: St Andrews Dates: 16-19 July
Coverage: Live across BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TVs, online, Radio 5 live, sports extra, tablets, mobiles and app.

It was a question that gate-crashed the celebration of a golfing life, a reminder of Tom Watson's present when all that most people wanted to hear about was Tom Watson's past.

It was about Gleneagles and the Ryder Cup and the drubbing at Europe's hand - Phil Mickelson and all that. Playing in his last Open championship after 40 years of competition featuring five victories and two other painful near-misses, Watson was steered momentarily out of memory lane and back to The Glen.

His feelings about Mickelson and his remarkable take-down of Watson's captaincy on that fateful Sunday?

"A disappointment to me," said Watson. "Phil was very disappointed about not being able to play (Watson controversially benched him in both sessions on the Saturday, sparking Mickelson's cutting criticism the following evening). "It was kind of sour grapes. That's understandable. We just got waxed. We let our hearts talk for us."

Watson said his relationship with Mickelson is now "cordial". How long it remains so is open to question.

"Sour grapes" is an expression that is hardly going to help the healing process in the wake of America's implosion in Perthshire last autumn. In this goldfish bowl world, Mickelson would have heard about Watson's remark in the same time it takes him to launch a golf ball up a fairway. His reaction would have been interesting.

For the most part in his farewell press conference, Watson wore a melancholic smile, the 65-year-old looking back wistfully on his tumultuous Open years.

Tom Watson
Watson won his second Open after beating Jack Nicklaus in their 'Duel in the Sun' in 1977

He's done it before, of course, many times - beginning with Carnoustie in 1975 when he beat Jack Newton in a play-off, a victory that started one of the most glorious journeys we have ever seen - or are ever likely to see - in the Open Championship.

What lent power to his words at St Andrews was the fact that this is it, the end. "It's time," he said, slowly. "It's time."

So the memories flooded out and if we had heard a few of them before then that was hardly surprising given the four decades he's spent talking about it all.

"Back in '75 (his first experience of the Open and his first win) I was just trying to learn how to play this game for a living. The '77 Open at Turnberry (the fabled Duel In The Sunexternal-link with Jack Nicklaus) was the place where I felt that I belonged out here on the professional tour.

"But it wasn't until 1982 and 1983 when I actually enjoyed links golf. Up until that time I didn't enjoy links golf very much. I fought it. I didn't like it at all here in St Andrews in 1978. Didn't like the uncertainty of it."

He tells a story about the weeks before the 1979 Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes. "I was on my pity pot about Lytham and I wasn't playing very well and I was whining. 'I don't like this type of golf, it's terrible golf and it doesn't reward a good shot and you have to guess too much'."

He mightn't have liked it, but he could play it better than anybody. Watson had won two Claret Jugs before 1979 and had added a third by the time he says he fully appreciated the majesty of the links.

His "pity pot" would have been like a throne to everybody else. How those others would have dreamed to be where Watson so often was - in the lead and in control coming down the stretch.

His love of the Open might have been a slow-burn but his love of Scotland was instant. It is said of his rival and friend, Nicklaus, that America loved him, but that Scotland loved him first and the same could possibly be said of Watson.

Carnoustie was his first major win, Turnberry his second Open, Muirfield his third, Troon his fourth. His favourite memory of 40 years coming to these shores dates right back to the start, to his first summer in 1975 and to the morning of that play-off with Newton.

"I was leaving the house and it was raining and it was cold and here comes a little Scottish girl up to the front door and she said: 'Mr Watson, please take this for good luck.'

"I could barely understand her, but I finally figured it out. She gave me a little thing of tinfoil and it was some white heather and I kept it in my bag for years for good luck. She was so sweet and innocent. That's what golf is in Scotland, right there. It's such a part of the fabric of life."

Watson spoke of the Opens he won and the ones that got away - Seve Ballesteros beating him at St Andrews in 1984 and Stewart Cink upsetting the sports story of the century at Turnberry in 2009.

He spoke of shots he made and shots he missed - the 2-iron at the 72nd hole at Birkdale in 1983 that helped give him a one-shot win over Andy Bean and Hale Irwin. The flipside: the 30-yard push and resultant bogey on the Road Hole at St Andrews in 1984 as Seve did his storied dance ahead of him on 18.

Tom Watson hits a drive on the 18th hole at St Andrews during the Champion golfers challenge charity match on Wednesday ahead of the Open
Watson hits a drive on the 18th ahead of his final Open. He still hopes to make the cut at the age of 65

"And now it's time for my last Open Championship," he says. "I kind of just hope that I make it to Sunday but when you get to that position in your career when you're just hoping to make it to Sunday then it's really time to hang them up.

"I'll be walking over the Swilcan Bridge with my son, Michael, on the bag and it will be a very special time. Do I have regrets? The only regret I have is that it's the end. It really is. It's the end. It's 40 years. I regret that I don't have the tools in the toolbox to be able to continue."

In truth, he can have no regrets. Sadness that it's soon to be over - and next April will be the final time he plays in the Masters as well, he revealed - but no real cause to look back and wonder 'if only…' His has been a blessed golfing career, the stuff of dreams.

Five Claret Jugs. In the pantheon, he has Scot James Braid (five victories from 1901 to 1910), Englishman JH Taylor (1894 to 1913) and Australian Peter Thomson (1954 to 1965) for company. Only Harry Vardon from Jersey, with six victories from 1896 to 1914, has won the Open more times than Watson.

It's his swansong now. Be it Friday or Sunday, he will have his moment to say goodbye and, goodness, how St Andrews and Scotland will see him off in style.


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