August 19, 2008

Tom & Tom

Tom Watson advises New York Times columnist Tom Friedman on match play

Editor's note: Golf Digest Contributing Editor Thomas L. Friedman has won three Pulitzer Prizes as a foreign-affairs columnist for The New York Times by knowing his way around the likes of Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, but when he advanced to the final of the senior club championship at Caves Valley Golf Club in Maryland, he was in unfamiliar territory. What's a reporter to do? Friedman reached out to Tom Watson, an eight-time major-championship winner who also takes his politics seriously.

"The first time Tom and I met he told me he had read my books but didn't always agree with my politics," says Friedman, who has a 4.7 Handicap Index. "We immediately jumped into a political discussion, and we e-mail each other about politics from all over the world."

We pick up the exchange the night before Friedman's final at Caves Valley; Watson was in Scotland at Royal Troon as the defending champion in the Senior British Open.


From: Tom Friedman

To: Tom Watson

Sent: Saturday, July 26, 2008 5:09 PM

Dear Tom,

While you've been playing the British Senior, I made the final twosome at the Caves Valley Senior Championship. After two wins today, I am in the final Sunday morning against the defending champ.

I need one bit of advice about match play from you--fast. Meanwhile, good luck. Beat those guys tomorrow.

Allbest, Tom


From: Tom Watson

To: Tom Friedman

Sent: Sun, 27 Jul 2008 2:37 am

Thomas,

Playing match play requires three strategies. Don't give shortish putts early or late in the match. If he is shaky on them early, keep making him putt the shorties. If not, then you can give them to him through the middle.

Play the course first, and the competitor second--unless he does something that allows you an advantage of a shot or two, or puts you into position where you have to hole it. Never say die . . . take dead aim when this happens. Expect your competitor to hit a good shot every time he plays. This will keep you focused on playing your best, and when he doesn't, it gives you some relief from the pressure.

Remember this is hole play, not stroke play. Your total score has no bearing on the outcome. A bad hole, or two, or three means you need to make it up with a good hole, or two, or three. All you have to do is win more holes than your opponent.

Good luck.

Tom


From: Tom Friedman

To: Tom Watson

Sent: Sunday, July 27, 2008 5:28 AM

Dear Tom,

Bless you and good luck to you today.

Tom


Editor's note: Watson's response comes after he ties for fifth in the Senior British Open.

From: Tom Watson

To: Tom Friedman

Sent: Mon, 28 Jul 2008 3:17 am

Did you win?


From: Tom Friedman

To: Tom Watson

Sent: Monday, July 28, 2008 5:06 AM

Dear Thomas,

I lost on 18. I birdied 14 to go 2 up. He birdied 15. I am 1 up. We both hit 16. Pin was on top, exactly where it was for you [during the 2002 U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley, won by Don Pooley in a five-hole playoff against Watson]. I three-putted from the middle of the green. Choked my first putt short. Just could not get the putter through the ball. We are even.

We both hit the middle of the fairway on 17. My ball is in a divot. I hit a 5-wood 210, perfect, but hot. Just rolls over the back into high collar. Have to pitch down the hill. He hits a low screamer onto the middle. I chip long. He two-putts. (He is the five-time defending champ and played smart and good golf at the end.)

We both hit the fairway on 18. Pin is exactly where it was for you and Pooley. I go left trap. He puts his 12 feet away. I make 5, he makes 4. It was a great experience. I learned a lot from losing. I applied all your lessons very well, but there is one more I need. For me it is the most important. I really kept my game together over 72 holes of matches, but at the real crunch time, those last four holes, I got short and quick. How do I avoid that?

Allbest, Tom


From: Tom Watson

To: Tom Friedman

Sent: Mon, 28 Jul 2008 7:21 am

You just learned something new about yourself with the putt on 16. You will remember it the next time. On both 17 and 18 you have imprinted your next game plan . . . it's called experience.

Bobby Jones said he never learned anything in winning a match, but was taught volumes in defeat.