My Shot: Tom Watson
Old men can't jump, golf nightmares are hell, and why you should 'kill the pig.' A revealing interlude with one of the all-time greats
Five-time British Open champion • Age 54 • Stilwell, Kansas
From the time I won the Kansas City Match Play championship at age 14, I never wanted to be anything but a golfer. I found that I liked hitting good shots in front of people. I discovered that—at least when I swung the club—I had a little ham in me. That thrills me to this day, hitting shots that people can admire and wonder, How did he do that?
Golfers who play a lot of courses often encounter short ledges or retaining walls, and I always had fun hopping down from them. I could jump off something six feet high and land like a cat, no problem. Well, today I can't jump off anything higher than two feet without it just killing me. To realize it's going to be that way from now on . . . it isn't easy.
My first two years on tour I roomed with Ron Cerrudo and Bob Zender. Ron had won the Cajun Classic, and I asked him to tell me everything about it. I must have asked him to tell that story 20 times, and every time he told it I sort of lived the experience along with him. Ron doesn't know it, but when I won my first tournament, the 1974 Western Open, his telling of that story did a lot for me. I almost felt I'd been there before.
I can still win a major. Things would have to go just right, but it can happen. The British Open this year is at Troon. Remember what happened there in 1982? I sure do.
Some guys have trouble sleeping the night before an important round. I never have. Invariably I sleep longer and better, and have more dreams, when I'm in contention and feeling pressure.
Not that all those dreams are good. I've had nightmares about golf. Who hasn't? I have two bad, recurring dreams. In one, I'm putting on a green that is cone-shaped, and the hole is at the top of the cone, so the ball either rolls back to my feet or goes past the crest and 30 feet away on the other side. In the other dream, I'm boxed in and don't have room to swing. Something vague is crowding me—the gallery maybe, or ropes, or something I can't pinpoint. I used to dream I was falling, which is the most common dream people have. That dream stopped. The golf dreams stayed.
A lot of amateurs who slice don't release the club well through impact. They don't "kill the pig." It's kind of a silly image, but picture a pig standing to your rear and to the left, adjacent to your left hip. You want to rotate the club to square at impact, then let it close even farther so that early in the follow-through you whack the pig in the head with the toe of the club. To kill the pig, you have to release the club. It's a nice little slice cure.
Did I have Jack Nicklaus' number? Let's see: I did get the better of Jack at the British Open in 1977, at the U.S. Open in 1982 and the Masters in 1981. But he finished first in majors 18 times, and in the top three 46 times. So did I have his number? The short answer—and it can't be any shorter—is no.
At the 1981 Ryder Cup, my swing was a mess. Jack was my foursomes partner, and when I drove I put him in the tall heather about four times. I asked Jack for a lesson, and one thing he said really stuck with me: "As you get older your swing will get better." I thought, Yeah, sure it will. But Jack turned out to be right. These days my swing is much more rotary, or around, as opposed to upright. It's a more natural way to swing, easier on the body and every bit as sound. My ball flight is lower; I can't hit the fairway woods real high anymore, which is a bit of a drawback. But I'm much straighter and a better golfer from tee to green than I was 20 years ago.
In second grade I got sent to the principal's office every day for two weeks. A different reason every day. I'd finish my work ahead of the other kids and then have a terrible time sitting there doing nothing. The teacher, old Mrs. McKinley, didn't like me very much. I'm sure if Ritalin had been available somebody would have suggested I needed it. Thankfully it hadn't been invented yet, and somehow I turned out fine.
Bruce Edwards knew me so well. Whenever I got to feeling sorry for myself or started to get discouraged, Bruce would straighten me out. "Don't be a baby," he'd say, or "Let's stop moping and get with the program." I don't like being talked to that way, but when it came from Bruce I took it and usually responded to it. I've talked a lot about how Bruce made me better as a person, because I don't want to lose sight of the big picture. But he made me a better golfer, too. All those great years I had, all the success I enjoyed, was realized with Bruce by my side. How can I look back at all that and not love and miss him like a brother?