In these ever-more hyperbolic times, legend has gradually emerged as one of sport s most over-used adjectives. These days, even slightly-better-than-average performers are somehow deemed worthy of what should be almost the ultimate tribute. Not where I come from though. In Scotland, legends of any game must, by definition, be members of the most exclusive of clubs: the elite of the elite. Few qualify, of course. But one who does is Tom Watson, a man and a golfer more than deserving of such an accolade. As well as a more than distinguished playing career highlighted by the winning of eight major championships, the now 63-year old American has forever carried himself with a rare dignity and poise. Like his compatriot and close friend, Jack Nicklaus, Watson has always been at his most impressive on those occasions when he has lost rather than won. He is a born sportsman, one who recognises the immutable law of every sport – that the game is bigger than any individual – as well as a truly great player. That he won the first four of his five Open Championships in the country where golf began (what he was thinking at Royal Birkdale in 1983, I have no idea) has always enhanced Watson s enduring reputation in Scotland. Striking some of the game s most memorable shots didn t hurt either. Earlier this year, in fact, Watson unveiled a plaque commemorating the very spot from which he hit surely the most famous 7-iron of his life. On July 9th 1977, from 178-yards out on the 18th fairway of the Ailsa course at Turnberry, the then 27-year old saw his ball finish little more than two feet from the cup the subsequent birdie good enough to give him a one-shot victory over a valiant Nicklaus in what became known as the Duel in the Sun (third-placed Hubert Green finished as many as ten strokes adrift of the runner-up). This is a special moment for me, said Watson. And it is a special day to be remembered for a shot that meant a lot to me. Probably the most important thing was that it helped me win over the greatest player in the world, the greatest player ever to play the game. It was a moment that confirmed to me that I could play, and that I could play competitively against the best in the world. Thirty-two years later that was still true. Over the same Ailsa course at Turnberry, a 59-year old Watson came agonisingly close to winning a sixth Claret Jug, losing out in a four-hole play-off with Stewart Cink. We shouldn t have been too surprised though. A master of the art of links golf where the talent to play a variety of shots easily outweighs the one-dimensional ability to hit the same shot time after time the old master put on a ball-striking clinic reminiscent of his heyday. And what a heyday it was. Consider the numbers. Five times the champion golfer of the year (aka Open champion), twice the winner of the Masters Tournament at Augusta and once the U.S Open champion, Watson amassed 39 victories on the PGA Tour where he was six times player of the year – as well as seven other wins across the globe. One of those others came in 1984, when he claimed the Australian Open title at Royal Melbourne. And now, 28 years later, Tom Watson has returned to Australia and The Lakes for another crack at the Stonehaven Cup. We are privileged to have him here. After all, chances to watch a bone fide legend don t come along too often.
Author: John Huggan / emiratesaustralianopen.com.au