Amongst the usual clamor and sentimental nonsense affixed to any compelling happening in the world of sports, there surfaced a few interesting responses to Tom Watson’s performance at The Open Championship, which concluded Sunday with (arguably) one of the worst playoff performances in recent memory.
On the radio show which bears his name, Colin Cowherd stated that Watson’s play was great drama, a sort of return of the hero story, which, I would elevate to the level of importance of Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters or, even though he failed to win, Hogan at Cherry Hills, or even Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977.
Cowherd’s point is most certainly valid. I would add, also, that this is two consecutive Open Championships in which we have been privy to a dramatic and entertaining Sunday not featuring the omnipresent Tiger Woods. This can only be a good thing for the sport at large.
Beyond this initial conjecture, the host, mounting his familiar “we watch/are entertained by sports because they make us feel good about ourselves” soapbox, proposed that Watson’s performance was particularly inspiring for middle-aged “has beens” on a personal level and with respect to thwarted ambitions.
This may be true. However, the shelf life of inspiration is a short one. Mostly, I think, Sunday at Turnberry was entertaining, to the extent that it encouraged in such individuals fantasies of possibility, rather than encouraging actual behavioral change, such as getting back to the gym, cleaning out the basement, or hitting to range to make one final push for the club championship.
While I don’t think Tom Watson nearly winning the third major of the year will inspire much from the average middle aged man (or woman, to be fair), I do think it is significantly inspirational for aging PGA Tour professionals. That is, prompting action rather than just imaginative dabble.
The 11th ranked player in the world, Vijay Singh, gave voice to this sentiment in an article written by Larry Fine. “It kind of gives us a second wind,” Singh said. “I was thinking maybe 50, 51, 52, I’d still have enough energy and strength to compete. But now after what Tom’s done, it gives you a second life.”
I certainly don’t think there will be a wave of Champions Tour players defecting in a formal attempt to win the premier PGA Tour events or any such thing, but, given modern golf technology and fitness, the idea that a nearly 60-year-old man can challenge for one of professional golf’s most competitive and prestigious trophies needn’t be foreign any longer.
Not wanting to over-extend importance in any way, I think this is the real significance of Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009.
Either that, or as a blueprint for how to jump 1269 spots (1,374 to 105) in the Official World Golf Ranking in just one week.