If you were watching, you'll never forget it. If you weren't watching, you should forever regret it. It was the 2009 British Open at Turnberry, when Tom Watson, at 59, delivered a performance for the ages. Or, pages, in this case.
TNT's Jim Huber, a veteran journalist renowned in golf circles for his essays on TNT's telecasts of the PGA Championship and British Open, has written a book recounting Watson's improbable run at a sixth Claret Jug. It's called "Four Days In July," goes on sale Tuesday and can be purchased here.
Here is an interview with Huber regarding his often poignant and always entertaining book:
Q. It's said that no one remembers who finished second. Isn't this book a refutation of that axiom?
Huber: This is one of those times when few remember who finished first. In a way, it resembled the 1999 Open Championship. Few remember Paul Lawrie. Everyone remembers Jean Van de Velde. No ridicule allowed this time, however.
Q. You've been around sports a long time, covered countless compelling events. Where does this one rank?
Huber: This was a heartbreak of the first order. With one weak push of an 8-foot putt, the dreams of those of us who beg to chronicle history collapsed. Selfish, perhaps, but it is so rare to be allowed the privilege of being part of such a moment. Like the AP's Doug Ferguson said, he felt nervous before the final round because you only get one
crack at a story like this in your lifetime.
Q. Often books of this nature come out on milestone anniversaries -- five, 10, 20 or 25 years later. What was the impetus for your writing this book now?
Huber: I guess I wanted to get it down on paper before all us senior citizens passed on or forgot everything that happened.
Q. To what extent did Watson cooperate, and how would you assess his comfort level in rehashing the tournament?
Huber: Tom gave me one extensive interview four or five months after the tournament and he was more than helpful, adding bits and pieces that helped flesh out the narrative. I must say his caddie, Neil Oxman, was my best friend throughout the writing. We were in touch often and he allowed me a rare glimpse inside his relationship with Tom. He even sent me his Turnberry yardage book, which I guarded with my life.
Q. You quote Jack Nicklaus suggesting that Watson probably views the '09 British Open the same way Jack did the '77 Open, that he lost. Did you get that sense, that there are no moral victories for elite players?
Huber: I think that is how Tom views Turnberry but at the same time, because of all the surrounding noise and post analysis, I think he will forever be very proud of what he managed there.
Q. You delve into the love affair between Watson and the Scots. Can you give us a sense of how it played out at Turnberry, how it was enhanced, perhaps?
Huber: Like Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus, the Scots long-ago made Watson an honorary citizen in the most heartfelt of ways and you could see it, hear it, feel it through every step he took that week. Not only on the course but in the restaurants and along the streets, he was given a ceremonial lift that few others are allowed.
Q. Watson's friend, Sandy Tatum, told me that in the years prior to that Open Championship, Watson had "sort of disappeared as people talked about the history of the game" and that at Turnberry, "happily, he brought it back out," probably in perpetuity. Do you concur?
Huber: Absolutely. Tom used the Open to establish a historic lifeline that nobody else, not Nicklaus, Palmer, any other golfer will approach.
Q. You note in your postscript the generosity of Stewart Cink, who was gracious while fully aware of the focus of your book. If someone had to be a spoiler in this Open, was Cink perfectly suited to be cast in this role?
Huber: There is no classier man in golf than Cink and, while celebrating a life-altering experience, he also will forever step back in deference to Tom.
Q. So many great quotes and insights in this book, for instance, Lanny Wadkins' observation that the younger generation ought to have been embarrassed, that "it's a generation without imagination." What stands out for you among the observations you gathered in researching this book?
Huber: It was great fun being around the Champions Tour in the aftermath of Turnberry, for the celebration lasted months. Guys like Trevino and Wadkins and Casper, even Dow Finsterwald at 80, were able to puff their chests a bit because one of theirs took on the youngsters and nearly made history.
Q. Most golf fans probably only know you for your short television essays. But you got your start as a writer and had previously written a couple of books. Did you enjoy again having the substantially larger canvas that a book provides on which to tell your story?
Huber: Because of my usual time limitations, I have grown terribly rusty at stretching a narrative such as this. While it's very liberating, it's also quite taxing. I particularly hate my computer's word count. Publishers ask for 80,000 words minimum and I write and write and write and check-and I've only reached 35,000! Where will I get the rest?
That said, to be allowed the privilege of telling this story, of recreating memories of a golden week, makes the mind and heart work a bit harder.
-- John Strege