Tom Watson at U.S. Senior Open
(April 11, 2016) -- Sometimes it is easy to forget where a legend came from. Plenty has certainly happened during the storied career of Tom Watson to make you forget about his roots. But as the 66-year-old golfing icon waved goodbye to the adoring patrons on the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club one last time on Friday it is necessary to start from the beginning.
However, before we do lets take a quick pause and recap Watson's Masters career highlights since that opening chapter all those years ago. Watson is sixth all-time with eight major championships including two Masters (1977 and 1981). During his 43 Masters appearances Watson made the cut 24 times including a remarkable 21 consecutive times.
Following his final competitive round at the Masters on Friday Watson talked to the media and like most sports legends said he didn’t know what to expect as he embarked on his golfing journey. How could he? Even in most people’s wildest dreams they could not have dreamt up the success that Watson enjoyed. In fact it wasn’t until he won the Kansas City Match Play championship in 1964 did he begin to believe he might be onto something.
“When (I was) 14-years-old and I won the Kansas City Match Play against the men I said maybe I am good enough to be a pro someday like Stan or Duke; two golf professionals in Kansas City. Then I got a little better and they started to ask me to play with them and I got to play with the pros and the dream got more real,” Watson said to the media following his round on Friday.
The modest beginning as a teenager started to lead to bigger and better things within the amateur golf ranks. Watson went onto win the Missouri State Amateur Championship on four separate occasions; winning the event in 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1971. The final victory in ’71 coming the year he turned pro.
Tom Watson first walked through the gates of Magnolia Lane in 1970 as a wide-eyed 21-year-old amateur and although that trip is forgotten by many it was the beginning of his greatness on the worldwide stage. Even one of his playing partners, the great Gary Player, didn’t remember the native of Kansas City, MO.
“My very first Masters as an amateur guess who I played with (in the Par 3 Contest)? Gary Player.” said Tom Watson during his pretournament press conference. “And I remember I hit a 9-iron on the 4th hole and he said man you hit the ball a long way and I thought oh man nice.”
As Watson recounted this story in the media center on Tuesday a smile broke across his face and he sat up a little straighter in his chair. Even all these years later the significance of that simple comment from Player still resonates with Watson and makes him beam with pride.
What is more amazing about the story is the full circle effect that a golf career can have. When Watson emerged on the national scene in 1970 he was quickly disremembered. However, as he played in his final Par 3 Contest as a Masters competitor he was once more paired with Gary Player and now Jack Nicklaus; this time as an equal to Player and of course now as an icon of the game himself.
Watson did miss the cut in his first Masters but the memories never left him, the good and the bad. Playing with 1957 Masters champion Doug Ford, Watson was in position to be around for the weekend until disaster struck.
“I keep on telling this story. I had the cut possibly made. I shot 77 in the first round and didn’t play very well,” Watson said on Tuesday. “The second round I think I was a couple under-par going into No. 13 and I hit a driver right around the corner just miles. So I had a 6-iron to the green and I’m (thinking if I) birdie the hole I am going to 3-under-par for the day. The cut is going to be 147 and I am going to be under the cut. I push (my second shot) into the water and make seven, make double (bogey) and I still hate that hole. I hate doing that because it cost me as an amateur making the cut here,” Watson said on Tuesday evening.
That moment was just about the last time Watson had any bad memories at Augusta National Golf Club. He is one of 22 former amateurs to have won the Masters and has played 134 competitive rounds at Augusta.
But as the sun sets on the Masters career of Tom Watson we are again reminded of the full circle effect that golf can have. While Watson, a former amateur participant bowed goodbye, another amateur getting the same opportunity afforded to Watson 46-years ago grabbed the attention of the golfing world.
Just a year older then Watson at the time of his amateur appearance, 22-year-old Bryson DeChambeau sitting a shot off the lead made his way to the 18th tee box only hours after Watson said farewell. Unfortunately, like Watson just when the footing seemed secure the bottom fell out a bit and DeChambeau triple-bogeyed the hole. But now fortunately like Watson, DeChambeau, unfazed kept swinging and pressing forward winning the Silver Cup awarded to low amateur each year.
Only time will tell us how far forward DeChambeau will press but as the calmness of night settled over the hollowed grounds of Augusta National on Friday we once more witnessed the life cycle of golf. We said goodbye to one legend of the game but we could have said hello to a new one that very same afternoon.