It wasn’t the way Tom Watson would have liked to finish his distinguished career in the Open Championship – shanking a wedge shot on the 18th hole and finishing with a bogey. But since Watson finished in near total darkness at 9:45 p.m., few of the hundreds of locals who had rushed to the 18th green to witness a historic moment in golf saw the shot. Nor did they care. What mattered was that “Toom,” as the Scots pronounce his name, their much beloved hero, was finally saying goodbye.
As light faded Friday evening the R&A made a decision not to halt play – which would have been a sensible decision – but instead gave the players the option of stopping or continuing. The decision was clearly driven by the desire to permit Watson to make his final stroll over the Swilcan Bridge and receive a fitting tribute. As Watson and his son and caddie Michael stood on the bridge, with little visible but the illuminated R&A clubhouse in the distance, a battery of flash cameras recorded the moment. Watson’s playing partners, Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker (along with their caddies) then mounted the bridge to take their place in history.
In an interview yesterday, Watson admitted that his first exposure to links golf was not positive, hitting what seemed to be perfect tee shots only to watch them take unpredictable bounces into pot bunkers. But he grew to embrace links golf, as well as the Scottish people whom he admires for their frugal lifestyle and obsession with the game of golf. On the eve of his first Open title, a Scottish girl handed him a heather wrapped in foil as a good luck charm, which he kept in his bag for years.
In his prime, Watson dominated the Open as few players in the modern era have dominated an event, winning five times between 1975 and 1983. Only the immortal Harry Vardon has more Open titles (6).
In 2009 at Turnberry, Watson came one bad bounce from winning his sixth Open title at the remarkable age of 59. Needing a par on the 18th hole to secure a victory, his well-struck 8-iron shot bounced on a downslope and ran through the green, and he missed an 8-foot par putt. Many were of the opinion that had he won, it would have been one of the most impressive accomplishments in sports history.
Watson is at peace with his misfortune in 2009, and yesterday told his son Michael that their final walk over the Swilcan Bridge was not a moment for tears, but an opportunity to reflect on all his wonderful experiences in the Open and playing links golf. It might have been dark, but the mood was bright. Perhaps somewhere out there the little girl was watching, knowing that her good luck charm paid off for her hero. Thanks, Toom, for all the memories.
Jack Ross is a regular contributor to NEGM and is the editor of Ross’s Rulings.
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