Hardly do you find a man in his 60s that not only can shoot his age, but shoot it against people a quarter of his age, and do it in the toughest test imaginable.
That is what Tom Watson has been doing the last 11 months. Playing in possibly his final U.S. Open last weekend, Tom finished in the top 30 at a venue he had won this same tournament at over two decades ago. If you took a minute to glance at his recent finishes at majors, you might think you were dealing with the other TW in the golf world, not Watson, who nearly won the British Open at Turnberry, tied for 18th at the Masters and was 29th at Pebble Beach.
What he is able to accomplish at this age is remarkable, mainly because of the last six days I spent with my father, who is 61 and spent most of his life golfing the ball better than most. Seeing the way distance can leave someone or how touch isn't as sharp as it once was makes you not only praise Tom, but gawk at him. He is one of a kind.
In 1998, Jack Nicklaus was 58 when he made a charge at his final major, finishing sixth at the Masters. Still, that was on a golf course that was short enough for Jack to compete, and if you could still hit the shots, you could golf your ball around with hardly a worry.
The courses Watson has been playing well on lately aren't made for the wrinkled. Augusta National is 7,435 yards, basically the 2010 version of Heidi Montag compared to the original model from 1998. Turnberry was playing at 7,204, a distance even good golfers in their 20s hardly find themselves playing regularly.
A buddy of mine once caddied for a friend of his at the Masters that had won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship the year before, and said without a doubt (and this was the same guy that had been around Tiger a time or two), Watson hit the ball as solidly as anyone he had ever seen. Maybe that is the reason he's able to do what he does against guys that are barely old enough to buy wine from the same decade as Tom's last major championship.
His farewell at Pebble was only sad until you realize that in a few weeks, Watson will again be at a major championship he can compete at, the British Open at St. Andrews, a course that surprisingly enough, Watson never won at. A script would be too farfetched to be focused around Tom competing one last time at the Old Course, and walking away with the Claret Jug a year after it was so violently snatched from his hands.
Does he have a chance at St. Andrews? Sure, the course is more about placement on the greens than distance, and if you can find the right tier or miss it in the right spot, you can go around in 67 or 68. The idea might be crazy, but the thought is exciting.
No matter what happens, it has been an absolute pleasure being able to see Watson play the way he's played the last year. He exemplifies everything that young golfers of today should long for; respectful, a genuine personality and a love for the game that will never go away.
Thanks for the continued memories, Tom. Pleasure's all ours.