advertisement

One for the ages

Two years ago, Tom Watson stunned us all with his near-historic-win at Turnberry. Now, as Open Championship week dawns, we're reminded of Watson's inspiring performance thanks to Jim Huber's new book 'Four Days in July.' Our T.J. Auclair sat down with Huber, the TNT Emmy Award-winning essayist, to talk about that wonderful week and his equally wonderful book.

huber_book_576x324

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

The best stories don't always have a fairytale ending. Case in point: Tom Watson at the 2009 Open Championship.

Watson, the greatest links player of all time evidenced by his five Open triumphs - the last of which came in 1983 - nearly pulled off the unthinkable in July of 2009 at Turnberry's Ailsa Course.

At age 59, Watson turned back the clock that week on the coast of the outer Firth of Clyde in southwestern Scotland.

In the very same tournament where then world No. 1 Tiger Woods missed the cut, senior citizen Watson - at least in golfing terms - nearly won his sixth Open and ninth major overall.

Instead, the legendary Watson lost in a playoff to the classy Stewart Cink, who notched his first major win.

Unfortunately for Cink, much like poor Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999 - though not as diabolical - the 2009 Open would be forever remembered more for the man who finished second than the man who hoisted the Claret Jug.

This wasn't lost on Cink, who quipped at the time he didn't feel bad about beating Watson because, after all, "Tom's name is on this trophy five times already!"

It wasn't lost on TNT's renowned veteran golf journalist Jim Huber either.

Huber, a regular essayist and interviewer during TNT's coverage of the Open Championship and PGA Championship through the years, recently authored a book called, "Four Days in July," which tells the story of Watson at the '09 Open, or as Huber calls it, "A tournament for the ages."

Three weeks after the '09 Open, Huber says he received a call from his literary agent, inquiring as to whether or not he had considered writing a book about Watson's week.

"I said maybe, maybe not," Huber recalled. "I thought about it for about three weeks. My writing exercise is so different than what you do with a book. I work in terms of minutes and seconds, not number of words. When the publisher wants 80,000-100,000 words, I'm at a loss. I love to write, but sometimes it's like pulling teeth. It's very difficult."

Huber decided, finally, this was a story he wanted to write.

"I didn't approach him [Watson] about the book," Huber said. "I decided this was a book I was going to write. It wasn't going to be an, 'as-told-to,' type of book. The whole fairytale thing was a little bigger than that. To have Tom's name would have been magic, but there were a lot more elements that went into it than otherwise would have. I think he was talked out about the subject, to be honest. It was probably 4-5 months after the Open before I could talk to him about that week. That was good because while I was there at Turnberry, I was first to get him off the course each day for an interview and got those emotions that were immediate. Later, he looked at it totally different after he had time to look at it. It was totally different."

Huber explained that the reason Watson looked at things differently in retrospect, is because when he walked off the 18th green after the playoff loss the age factor meant nothing to Watson. Instead, the competitor in him was ever present. He wasn't looking at himself as the nice story of the older guy who had no business making a nearly epic run at a major; he was the guy who just lost a major.

"He was the old Watson on Sunday evening," Huber said. "He finished second and that wasn't good enough.

"But 4, 5, 6 months later, Tom finally realized how special what he did was that week," Huber added. "Looking back on it with hindsight, he saw that he affected a lot of people around the world and made a statement to the aging among us. You get by more with guile than with talent at the Open. Maybe that's not the right word. How about athletic ability? Tom, going into that week, felt something very special. He felt comfortable, having won there twice in the past. He felt special and he just had one thing feed another and success bred more success."

Huber said that aside from a couple of chats with Watson, his biggest helper in writing, "Four Days in July," was Watson's caddie, Neil Oxman.

Oxman was always there to answer a phone call or an email about the week at Turnberry for Huber. One particularly special item Oxman passed along to Huber for help in his research was the yardage book Oxman and Watson used that week.

"It was like hieroglyphics," Huber said. "When I was done with it, I packaged it up nice to send back to him."

Cink was a big help too.

"Stewart is such a good guy," Huber said. "We all felt bad for him. It was a twinge of regret for him. It wasn't like 1999 and Van de Velde, but at the same time, that Open was about the way Tom played and even though Stewart won, he's an afterthought. Stewart made all the right statements and was politically correct. He realized what Tom had done. He was following the leaderboard and knew the story. In writing the book, I felt guilty taking as much of Stewart's time as I did Tom's. Yet, he was so gracious and spent a lot of emotional time with me."

"Four Days in July," was released on May 10, 2011. As for the significance of that date, well, there really isn't any.

"I know," Huber laughed, "Usually these kinds of books come out on the anniversary of the event, a return to the site where the event happened, etc. In this instance, quite frankly, the timing was because for those involved - Tom, Neil and I - if we waited we may have forgotten some of the details. I wanted to get it all done while we still remembered."

Before the book was released to the public, Huber sent a copy to Watson along with a note that read, "I hope I got this right."

It wasn't until June that Huber finally saw Watson again in person at Congressional Country Club for the U.S. Open.

Watson had just finished reading the book and told Huber, "Yeah. You got it right."

"I wanted him to feel good about the book," said Huber, who calls Watson's playoff loss one of the top-5 sporting moments he's ever witnessed, which is saying a lot for a man who covered the likes of Muhammad Ali. "I wanted to paint that picture perfectly. Writing the book was a labor of love and tedium. I spent a lot of time researching, writing and I'm very happy with how it came out.

"Even though Tom lost, in the grand scheme of things, I think he wins," Huber said. "I think all of us agree he came away from the week as a champion and a victor in our minds. He changed the way we look at older athletes and God bless him for that."