On Watson at the Open Championship, Briefly

Commentary on a few of the responses to Mr. Watson’s near victory.

Thrash TalkAmongst 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.

3 thoughts on “On Watson at the Open Championship, Briefly”

  1. I watched in amazment and then felt his pain as he faultered in the playoff.
    Beware of the over 50 crowd….we still have what it takes.

  2. Worst playoff performance, as harsh as it sounds, is perhaps what we witnessed on the final day of the Open Championship. While everyone makes the point about the aura surrounding with Tunrberry’s son returning for a late-life hurrah, the only problem is that what followed his final miss on the 18th hole during regulation play was overshadowed by a farcical four-hole playoff. I know purists will squirm over any suggestion to meddle with the way these great Majors are played out, but as those 45 minutes unfolded surely everyone was thinking is this right?

    You had a “for the first time” packed to the rafters grandstand on the 18th hole just to see them fizzle out when the players went back into the course. Besides the gentle presence of Ivor Robson on the tee, there was hardly anyone else standing there to follow them. And once again, by the time they reappeared in front of the world at large, Tom Watson had slumped from a near-improbable tale of success to a timid defeat. So much so that when he was taking the final penalty drop, he was forced to apologise to the fans standing on the side of the fairway. There is nothing else he could have done.

    I guess, a sudden death playoff or an 18-hole playoff are the laternatives though I am very apprehensive about those 18-holers on the fifth day. Let’s see if people take lesons from this year and change around a few things.

  3. Im one of those for whom Watson’s performance really hit home. Only because of semi retirement, some youthful DNA, and my drive to play & practice as if golf were crack and I an addict, have I been able to achieve a competitive game. The overwhelming odds of me competing and winning in my mid life tell me that I am delusional but competition is the direction I am heading regardless. Watson’s flubbed putt to win, and shut out Cink, is for me the key to the whole story. Golf is played between the ears. The swell of emotion inside Tom was plain for all to see over the days leading up. He approached the putt as someone just wanting to get this minor formality out of the way, after which his mind told him he would look up and soak in the glory. Which is exactly what happened – for a brief moment – in his mind. In reality he did not stay in the moment and really give the putt the attention it required.
    The wolf is always at the door, and it wasn’t Cink. Tom just gave up after that, he internally berated himself for not being perfect and the playoff was just something to be endured. All week long he played calmly as if to just do his thing and take it as it comes. A great way to play because it helps you stay ‘ in the zone ‘. But Tom’s ‘ nice guy ‘ kept coming out. Grace under pressure, being a gentleman are great values. But in the end nice guys finish last. When the shoe was on the other foot and Cink was given the opportunity to decide who wins Stewart showed no trace of being a nice guy.
    How many times do we stand over a crucial putt ( and they’re all crucial ) and get our mental priorities mixed up. When was the last time you worked on your mental game ?

    And just so you know I found the whole thing heartbreaking.

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