Tom Watson Wednesday Interview

July 10, 2013

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Tom Watson here into the Media Center. Thank you for joining us. Tom doesn't need too much of an introduction here as far as all the accomplishments. But a successful run at the 2009 British Open, again another made cut last week, played very well into your 60s. Won a senior major in 2011.  

How do you keep doing it here in your early 60s to continue to compete and play out here?

TOM WATSON: Smoke and mirrors, bottom line. Good genes. Mom and dad gave me good genes, and I've been fortunate enough not to have too many injuries, although I have had a hip replacement.

I think my swing's a pretty long swing so that helps in the sense that it doesn't get too short because of age. As many of the people, many of the golfers do when they get older, their swing gets a little shorter and quicker. I've been able to still remain – have some flexibility and keep the length of the swing and make a pretty good turn.

It's just not as consistent now as it used to be. That's the problem.

THE MODERATOR: And you've been in the news a lot recently. Obviously, Ryder Cup captain coming up next year, and just named your assistant captain Andy North last week at The Greenbrier. Talk a little bit about that and how you've been able to balance competitively and whatever else you've done and preparing next year at Gleneagles.

TOM WATSON: It was a terrific honor to get the call from Ted Bishop of the PGA. It was a year ago November when he called me to ask me if I'd consider being the Ryder Cup captain in 2014. I told him that was the call I've been waiting for for about 20 years. I was really hoping that maybe someday I'd have the chance to be the Ryder Cup captain again, and it came to pass.

It really hasn't affected what – a lot of my time with the exception that I have been following the PGA Tour a lot more, let's put it that way. I've been following – watching the players on the telecast. I've been out on the Tour. I was at the U.S. Open. I spent several hours on the 17th hole there watching some of the younger players and some of the players come through.

It's just a matter of trying to getting to know some of these players with whom I'm going to have to deal with, I hope, as a Ryder Cup captain, I get to know them on more of a personal basis. Most of them don't know me as far as on a personal basis. Just open the door and going out to meet them and getting them comfortable in a relationship with me.


Q. What is last week's showing at The Greenbrier do for you in confidence coming to Omaha?

TOM WATSON: I played pretty well. I kind of know the golf course. I played some of the holes well. My wedge game was very, very good. I hit the ball very close to the hole there with the wedge last week. So that was a big positive.

I didn't drive the ball particularly well. I didn't hit my long irons particularly well, but I scored particularly well with the short clubs the last two days.

First two days I played very well, but then it kind of fell off the last couple of days. Didn't play quite as well tee to green. And that's what you need here at this golf course is tee to green play. Any time you play in a USGA Championship, if you don't drive the ball on the fairway, you're dead. You're done. This rough is as tough a rough as I've ever played honestly. It really is.

Even when they just cut the seven yards of rough off the edge of the fairway, that rough is about that tall, but the ball goes right down into it. I can't move it out of that. Very few guys out here can move it out of that.

So it's a premium to put the ball on the fairway. That's a USGA event. The one thing that's a little bit easier, the greens are softer because of the heat, and they have to keep the greens – and they're a little bit slower than we normally play. But that's – again, I think you'll see some pretty decent scores because of the green speeds being softer. I know we had three tenths of an inch of rain yesterday. It may have jaded my estimation of the softness of the greens right now.

The golf course is a true test. I was here four years ago, three or four years ago, when they first announced Omaha Country Club being the venue for this year's tournament, and I had a chance to go around the golf course.

One thing that just stood out is how many uphill shots you have on this golf course, uphill approaches to greens. And you have it on 14 of the 18 holes. The par 3s are all downhill. All the par 4s and par 5s are uphill. That didn't bode very well yesterday.

I decided I was going to play 18 holes yesterday. That was not a good idea. I can tell you, that was not a good idea. Wore myself out walking this golf course in 103 temperature out there. The heat index wore me out, but today I'm better.

Q. Tom, you've played a few rounds in your time, a few tournaments. Do you still find yourself gearing up for tournaments, or is it just another four days?

TOM WATSON: No. I gear up for tournaments like this for sure. One of the things I was thinking about last week was driving the ball, and I was disappointed about the way I drove the ball because I knew I was going to have to drive the ball better than I did last week for this week to have a chance to perform well here.

The key here is putting the ball in the fairway off the tee. Didn't do a very good job. This morning I went to the practice tee and worked on it and got a little bit better idea what I'm trying to do and getting the ball to go a little straighter.

So that's part of the process. Whenever I play in a tournament of this importance, I'm thinking ahead. It's a golf course that I think you can make some birdies on this golf course. There's not a question that some of the shorter holes you can get the ball close, but, again, they're always going uphill.

That's the toughest shot in golf to judge because you'd better have the right trajectory on your ball. If it goes in there too low, that ball's going to skip past the hole. You've got to have the right trajectory going uphill to stop the ball properly.

Q. Tom, a couple things. First of all, this will probably be a very difficult stretch for anybody, what you have coming up. I assume you're planning on going to Muirfield next week, correct?

TOM WATSON: Correct. I'm going to the British Open next week and then the Senior British Open at Birkdale, and then a week off and then the PGA.

Q. Given that, how are have you prepared for the stretch? What have you done, if anything, differently, to get ready?

TOM WATSON: Take a lot of naps. I took a nap this afternoon after I was up in the fitness trailers up there, and I caught a few Zs up there, and I feel pretty good right now.

That's what you do. I won't play – I'll take a couple days off; one day off this coming week before the tournament, one day off before Birkdale. I won't do it like I used to. I'd go to those venues and play three practice rounds. Sometimes I'd play more than that.

Q.The fact that you are familiar – so familiar with Muirfield and so forth, you have that luxury, and once you get there  

TOM WATSON: If I can remember how to play it. My age, you forget a lot of stuff.

Q. What do you remember about Muirfield and what will be important for you there once you come off of this?

TOM WATSON: There's certain holes there where the wind plays tricks on you. I remember playing – the last time I played there, in the Senior British Open, I won it, but the wind – I didn't remember from the old days the way the wind played tricks on you in certain shots.

It took me until getting into the tournament to remember it, and making the mistake. There are holes out there that, having played there before with certain wind conditions, it really helps you play the proper shot. So if I can remember that again, I think I'll do okay, with the exception of the fact that they've added 300 yards to the golf course. I don't know how that's going to affect me. I don't know what holes they've added to it. I'm just going to have to find out when I get there.

I know there are certain holes there that, before, you have to be so spot on as far as your distance is concerned. If they've moved it back, I don't know if I have that shot.

Q. Just last thing. Talk about another Muirfield Village. Fred's the Presidents Cup captain. How much have you talked to Fred about the upcoming Presidents Cup? You've had success at Muirfield.

TOM WATSON: I haven't talked to him at all.

Q. Not at all?


Q. Interesting.

TOM WATSON: I'll be watching. Certainly be watching our players, because there's a good chance a bunch of them will be on the Ryder Cup team in 2014. So I'll certainly be watching.

Q. Hi, Tom. Knowing that you have been the runner up in this championship a few times, and at this stage of your career, is it difficult dealing with the fact that, at this stage, your opportunities may not be as plentiful as they were when you were in your 20s?

TOM WATSON: No, it really has never been that way with the exception of trying to win the U.S. Open. I was getting a little frustrated there trying to win the U.S. Open.

I had a couple of shots at it early in my career. Then my career really took off. Didn't have that many shots, and then 1982 happened. That wasn't supposed to happen. I played lousy the first two rounds. Smoke and mirrors again. I kept it at even par, and then I finally found a key to my golf swing that made it work the last two rounds.

Going into the tournament, I didn't give myself a chance in hell to do well there. That was the one that I put a lot of pressure on myself to win.

Somewhat similar to this tournament. I've had my opportunities here, but I don't put that pressure on me to win. I just take it – the old cliche, I'm just trying to take it a round at a time and try to get myself in position on Sunday to have a shot at it. That's all I'm trying to do.

My game right now is hot and cold. I described last week, I played really well the first two rounds. Last two rounds, didn't play very well. Struggled yesterday and today. Practice rounds here. Then got on the practice tee, and at the end of the session, started hitting the ball well again. Whether it's going to work on the golf course tomorrow is anybody's guess, but at least it's on the upswing.

If I can keep the ball on the fairway and get there on Sunday, that's all I'm trying to get to.

Q. They were probably asking you questions about your waning chances to win championships 14 years ago too. That's been exaggerated a bit. I love the Golf Channel because I can watch old tournaments. I was just watching you and Seve go down to the wire at St. Andrews a few nights ago. Sorry to bring that up.

One thing I've really been struck by by watching older tournaments I grew up watching was every time you hit a shot, you don't have someone yelling and screaming get in the hole or ba ba bowie or something stupid like that. And, of course, the equipment. Does the PGA Tour and The Champions Tour need to do something about the decorum out there and also the equipment, including, as Jack often talks about, the ball.

TOM WATSON: Well, the equipment itself, the golf ball has the most to do with the extra distance, although watching these players swing at it with the big headed drivers, they launch it.

The golf ball is harder to control, I think, going downwind. It's harder to keep in the air with your long irons, your 3 woods, and that's my experience. So there's some negatives to the ball, but it does definitely go farther.

Whether we pull it back – I would concur with Jack. I think it's the right thing to do to bring the ball back. How much is open for debate. But the golf ball, I know, increased by a significant amount between 1993 and 2001, when they went from the rubber band round ball to the solid ball. There's not a question that it's affected the way players play the game, and it – I would too.

If I had the opportunity to do it with the strength I had as a kid, I would probably play it the way these kids do today.

As far as the decorum of the game, you see that in all society. So it's not just golf. It's not a big deal. It's just there's a certain amount of class that's lacking. But that's our society today. We're more of an informal society today than we used to be. You see it in all walks of life.

Q. Tom, you're in quite the group with yourself, Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer. I'm assuming the stage doesn't get too big for you, but is there any added pressure playing in a group that includes three Hall of Famers?

TOM WATSON: I want to beat those guys. That's first and foremost. I figure if I can beat both those guys, I'll be in there on Sunday. That's the way I look at it.

It's always fun to play with the best players and compete with them. I have to say that any time I've played with Lee or Jack or Arnie or Johnny Miller or the best players, Seve, Norman, that day I played with him, I wanted to beat him on that particular day.

Q. Tom, you've had an illustrious career. What keeps you motivated? What keeps you going?

TOM WATSON: I love the competition, and if I can continue to compete and give myself a chance to win tournaments, I'll still play out here. When that day comes when I can't do that – and that day's coming sometime; I don't know when – I'll hang them up.

I enjoy the competition, and the reason I enjoy it is that I still think and sometimes can do – can do it. That's the bottom line.

When you go out and play against the kids, I might be able to do it for a round or two. Four rounds is really tough to do. But in 2009, I almost got there and played some pretty good golf over a period of four rounds.

Today, it's the Champions Tour for me. If I can continue to compete on the Champions Tour and have a chance to win, I'll still be out here.

Q. Follow up question. Do you still enjoy – is golf still fun for you?

TOM WATSON: It's still fun when you're playing well. It's still no fun when you're playing lousy. Just like you. When you come off that last hole and you've just finished a good round of golf, life is good. When you come off that last hole and you messed it up through four or five holes and just played a lousy round of golf, it's just not a very good day. It just isn't.

Actually, there's a joke going around the internet. You probably read about this. I can't say it here.

Q. Have you thought at all how much you might have to scale back, how much you compete, how many competitions you're in when the Ryder Cup approaches next year? Or will you?

TOM WATSON: You said scale back?

Q. Yeah.

TOM WATSON: No. I'm going to continue to play. Again, I'll play – I'll probably play the PGA again next year, depending on what type of responsibilities I have with the PGA. I'm playing the PGA this year.

The PGA next year is the ending of the points system. Nine players will be determined at the end of the PGA next year. So I'll be there looking at the players, getting more familiar with them at that time. That's the time when I really ramp it up.

Again, I've got to make three picks by the first week in September from the middle of August. I'm going to try to get as much input as possible from the players themselves and my observations on who I think is going to help our team win.

So I'm still going to compete in about as many tournaments as I'm playing. I'm playing about a dozen tournaments altogether. That's good for me. That's the right amount for me.

Q. Four years later, how do you look back on the 2009 British Open? Pride? Regret? How do you look back on that? Because it was an unusual feat.

TOM WATSON: I wish that ball would have stopped at 18. Maybe I should have hit a 9 iron, but I didn't know there was going to be a little bit more gust of wind at my back as was reported to me by my friend Andy – Andy North, who was by the green, and a photographer was behind the green. There was a big gust of wind when the ball was carried onto the green. Maybe that's the reason it didn't stop. I don't know.

I could have played better in the playoff, given myself a better chance there. The one thing that came out of it, and I keep repeating this, is that I got so many people writing me, emailing me, saying that, you know, Tom, I was giving up on myself. I was not going to play golf anymore because I couldn't play it well anymore. Or I wasn't going to do something in my life that I just didn't feel like I could do it anymore because I was too old. You've given me the inspiration to go get motivated and do it again because if you can do it, I can do it.

There was a lot of letters and emails that were like that, and that was the big positive that came out of it.

THE MODERATOR: Tom, can you just talk a little bit about – you mentioned earlier 1982, and how you put pressure on yourself playing in the U.S. Open. Talk about what it means to play in your National Championship, whether it is the U.S. Open or the U.S. Senior Open.

TOM WATSON: In my case, the National Open – what we call the U.S. Open, but my dad always called the National Open – is the premiere tournament, more important than any other tournament by a long shot to my father. As a result, it was the same thing with me. The Masters was fine. Arnold Palmer made the Masters. PGA is great. I know that Stan Thirsk, my pro back in Kansas City, played the PGA a bunch of times. A bunch of old guys did.

And there was The Open Championship, the British Open. I didn't think much of that until really until I got on the Tour. Once I became a good enough player to play some of the national amateur events, the U.S. amateur was the most important event by far. To play well there was the important thing.

They always had heavy rough and hard and fast greens, and it was always my dream to win the U.S. Open or a National Open. I had a chance in '74, Winged Foot. '75, Medina. I had really not too many other chances.

Then '82 came around. I didn't give myself a chance at all in '82 because I was playing just cruddy going into the tournament. But I was hitting the ball so far sideways going in there, I was hitting the ball where the gallery was walking. I was so far offline. So I had some decent lies into the greens. It was – I hit the ball sideways.

And then I went to the practice tee for a couple hours on Friday, still just trying to find something that was going to work, and I finally found something that was going to work and started striping it. As a result, I won the tournament I wanted to win most.

But this tournament, my dad always had the ability to remember all The Open champions – U.S. Open champions from 1985 on. I'd always quiz him. Who won the 1913 U.S. Open? That was easy, Francis Ouimet. Who won the '22 Open? That was easy, Gene Sarazen. Who won '32? Gene Sarazen again.

Then you have the obscure ones. Who won the '31? Well, it was – I don't know. I can't remember.


TOM WATSON: Johnny Goodman, the last amateur to win the U.S. Open. I think that was 1934.


TOM WATSON: Close. Anyway, that was dad. It was always great to be around him and his friends because they love the game so much. They knew the history of the game. They knew the players. They knew the amateurs, the players. They knew how to play the game. They knew how to bet. They knew how to needle. I was lucky. That's why I am who I am today, as a result of growing up in that environment with my father and his friends.

That defined my early childhood, and now it's who I am.

Q. Not having the benefit to cover many majors in any level, the crowds that we see here in Omaha on practice days, today and yesterday, are these unique? Are these unusual? Are they par for the course? What kind of reception have you received here?

TOM WATSON: These are way above par for the course in a major championship. These are great crowds. It's wonderful to play in front of so many people. They're just – and yesterday. I was out there like an idiot playing 18 holes when it's 103 heat index. I was just dragging. But there were tons of people out there.

They dropped off a little on the last nine, I have to admit, like I was dropping. But there's tons of people out there this morning. It's a credit to Omaha Country Club, the community here in Omaha, what they've done. I know through my contacts at USGA this will be probably the most successful USGA Senior Open in a long, long time because of the community support that has been brought here by the city of Omaha and the people around here.

Hope I can be there on Sunday to do what I always like to do, and that is to hit the good shot when I have to. That's what I'm here to do.

THE MODERATOR: Any other questions for Mr. Watson? All right. Tom Watson off at 7:52 off the 10th tee with Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie on Thursday.


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