Way back in 1982, Tom Watson was playing in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He was locked in a battle with Jack Nicklaus when, on the famous 17th, he put his tee shot into the scrunge past the hole. And then this happened:
It was one of the singular moments in golf history. But for Watson to get a chance to play the Open at Pebble this summer for a fifth time, he'll need a special exemption from the USGA. Easy enough; the guy's a living legend, so he can go ahead and book his trip to ...
... wait, what? I'm sorry, I thought you said that the USGA is holding off on giving Watson the exemption. But that would be just silly, right?
Apparently not. The USGA hasn't yet offered Watson a special exemption. Not that it's an automatic deal -- the last special exemption the USGA offered came to Nick Price in 2005. And Watson obviously still has the game to compete -- recall last year's British Open, when he was one eight-foot putt away from winning, and this year's Dubai Desert Classic, in which he finished tied for 8th.
The USGA has stopped handing out exemptions at its winter annual meeting, specifically to either reward a player playing well in the spring or avoid looking foolish by picking a player who ends up playing poorly.
That's all well and good, but this is Tom freakin' Watson we're talking about here. The guy is a golf icon. Yes, I know the USGA loves its rules -- it goes out of its way to make the Open the most difficult tourney of the year -- but there are times when the greater good of the game ought to come into play. Recognizing Watson's legacy, particularly his 1982 win, is a no-brainer.
Frankly, I'd be stunned if the USGA doesn't give Watson the exemption when it makes its decision in May. But enough with the screwing around and making him wait. Drop the bureaucracy, USGA, and admit what the rest of the world knows -- Tom Watson has earned the right to play wherever and whenever he likes.