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Tom Watson: One More Title?

Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Gina Gershon, Sep/Oct 98

(continued from page 4)

His Tour earnings reflected that shakiness. In 1994, he won only $380,378 and ranked 46th on the money list (with a mere four Top Ten finishes). He struggled even more in '95 and fell to 58th place, earning just $321,000.

But never complaining, and tirelessly working with teacher Stan Thirsk and "surrogate father" Byron Nelson, Watson found the touch in the 1996 Memorial Tournament. Shaking off a last-round challenge from David Duval by combining wondrous iron shots with sure-handed putting, he won for the first time in nine years.

"That one really felt good," says Watson, smiling. "During my bad stretch it was gimmick of the week, gimmick of the month when it came to my swing and rhythm. I was looking for keys, secrets to perfection, the Holy Grail. Then finally the light bulb went on. I ironed out a few basics and golf became fun again. A lot of fun."

Now calling his game "better than average," Watson is also confident that his putting woes are behind him--that after winning this year's Colonial, finishing second in the Hawaiian Open, sharing the runner-up spot in the Phoenix Open, and tying for the lead in the rain-suspended AT&T, he's emotionally ready to take on the Tour's newest powers.

"My putting has given me a big lift. I'm getting some real good feedback right now. Though I haven't heard the nickname One Putt in a long time, I'm shooting to get that name back. I made a few [putting] adjustments before the Tour started this year, for my arms and shoulders weren't moving in unison. And the putter head would slow down; I wasn't following through. Now I am, and the balls are starting to go more on line. So anything's possible now. I feel good, real good. I'm making putts."

Flushed with hope and resolve, Watson, for now at least, is reminiscent of that golden-haired Kansas City youth who went mano-a-mano with the almighty Jack. Of course, confidence and enthusiasm alone won't guarantee him a shot at another major, given today's remarkable array of young talent such as Woods, Leonard, Duval, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, many of whom are revolutionizing the game with their 300-yard drives. That's a trend that concerns Watson, the unabashed traditionalist, who declares, "Whether it's changing the ball or the equipment, something has to be done to preserve the shot-making values of the past."

As far as the future goes, Watson has a number of options available: an eventual stint on the Senior Tour, maybe some good-ol'-boy camaraderie in the broadcast booth ("I don't know if I'm cut out for TV, yet I do love talking about strategy") or course design work.

About the latter he says, "It's an extension of the dreams I had as a kid. Ever since grade school I've been excited by drawing impossible designs, picturing golf courses on paper," says Watson, who collaborated with Sandy Tatum and Jones Jr. in the design of the Spanish Bay golf links on California's Monterey peninsula.

Four Watson-designed courses are already open in Japan and he is now working on two U.S. projects, one on Kiawah Island in South Carolina, the other near his Kansas City home. "I enjoy formulating ideas and coming up with designs that fit what the land gives you. These two sites are vastly different. While the Kansas City tract is rolling with lots of elevation changes, at Kiawah, with all its marshes and lowlands, I'll have the opportunity to recreate a real links-styled course. To be an artist and to create a really beautiful canvas."

Also dedicated to making golf more accessible to children, Watson regularly stages junior golf exhibitions and donated his architectural services when a Kansas City foundation built a golf academy for youngsters. The honorary chairman of the Tour's First Tee program, which promotes the building of affordable golf courses for children, Watson argues, "We need to build 200 courses for young people. Golf, in general, has become much too expensive. Tour players have to meet this challenge, take some respon-sibility and now give something back to the game. We have a duty and an obligation to get personally involved."

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