Sunday, August 9, 2015

My Dear Watson

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The story is usually about the winner: the person, depending on the sport, holding the trophy, being swarmed by post-game reporters, spraying champagne, doing burnouts or reveling in a downpour of confetti. That’s who gets the accolades, the attention, the endless SportsCenter loops and maybe – if the obstacles and drama were significant – a 30 for 30 documentary. Fits of strength, new levels of human athleticism, steely nerves under pressure, a killer instinct and absolute victory: that’s what fabulous sporting moments are made of.  Runners up or those buried deep in the field are soon-to-be-forgotten props on someone else’s glory train. 

Every now and then, though, there’s a story that cuts through the darn near exclusive celebration of victory.  With all due respect to the ultimate winner at this year’s Open Championship, a coronation that was delayed until Monday due to weather and perhaps not coincidently beyond my due date for this piece, THE story – for me anyway - happened at the end of Saturday’s rain-soaked and wind-swept second round. 

As Tom Watson, 65, approached the Swilcan Bridge to cross the burn (love the terminology used across the pond) bisecting the 18th fairway at famed St. Andrews, it was far from picturesque.  Weather delays had pushed the moment to the brink of sunset and left but a few brave and beer-infused souls in the grandstand.  Nevertheless, a series of photos was in order.  The first was with playing partners Ernie Els, Brandt Snedeker and the caddies for all three players.  A photo of Watson with his son/caddie followed.  Finally, Watson, a gentleman among gentlemen and the definition of grace, stood alone on the stone bridge as cameras popped. 

Watson was 11-over par at the time of the photo op and ended up 12-over, a career-worst for the five-time Open champion.  He not only missed the cut, Watson finished next to last.  So why the fuss over this forgettable performance?  This was Watson’s last Open tournament.

Of 1972 vintage, I don’t remember many sporting events prior to 1981. Jack Nicklaus, golf’s leader with 18 major championships, won 17 of them prior to ’81.  Watson, an eight-time major champ, won The Open and U.S. Open Championships in ’82 and repeated as The Open champ in ’83.  My impressionable young mind didn’t understand all the Nicklaus worship; Watson was the best golfer in the world. 

Those ’82 and ’83 titles created my “thing” for Watson.  Childhood memories will do that to you, I suppose.  Huge moments and competitors get chiseled onto your blank, impressionable canvas and that’s it…they’re forged like stone tablets.  Characters become larger than life.  Players and teams become better than they actually were.  And no one better try to convince you otherwise. 

Oh to recreate that young, unencumbered mind: there was no distracting static, no historical context, no disputable data and no cynicism.  There was only the now, and the now was fabulous.  Moments were never overanalyzed and, as a result of pure thinking, the present was better than it had ever been before and likely as good as it would ever be.

During summer break in the early 80’s, only Wimbledon and The Open Championship broke my morning routine of cartoons, Atari and professional wrestling.  Watching The Open engraved Watson’s legend in my mind.  Thirty-plus years later, his illustrious Open career is over and his farewell will quickly fade.  The storylines marinating at St. Andrews are just too good for nostalgia to hold its grip.  Will Dustin Johnson recover from a U.S. Open meltdown?  Could Sergio Garcia win his first major championship?  Or amateur Paul Dunne?  Will Jordan Spieth claim the third leg of golf’s grand slam and take the next step toward becoming the best golfer of his generation (and to a current 10-year-old what Watson was to me)?  The winner will dictate the ultimate headline for the 144th Open Championship.  But before getting there, before showering the latest man who hoists the Claret Jug with praise (forgetting all others), I had to pause to appreciate Watson’s excellence and an uncluttered child’s mind, the confluence of which made Watson the first “greatest golfer” I ever saw.  

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