An Interview with: Tom Watson
KELLY ELBIN: World Golf Hall of Fame member, two time Senior PGA Champion, and the Captain of the 2014 United States Ryder Cup team. Tom Watson, joining us at the Senior PGA Championship. Tom, welcome back to Bellerive. I'm sure you're pleased to have a championship of this stature in your home state.
TOM WATSON: Yeah. Very close. I was telling the story last night at the Champions Dinner. I came down here to qualify for the Missouri Amateur at Sunset when I think I was 16 years old. And I was playing with Payne Stewart's dad, Bill Stewart in the qualifying.
After nine holes, I saw Bill go over to my dad who was following me around actually wasn't following, he was just there at the ninth. And he had a conversation, my dad came over and said, son, you need to check how many clubs you have in your bag. And Bill was saying that I forgotten to take I had four woods in my bag and I had an extra four clubs in my bag, 18, rather than 14. And it was just a 16 stroke penalty is all it was.
But, no, I played here in the PGA and of course the U.S. Senior Open. I played here at Bellerive and I've always enjoyed playing this golf course. This is a very difficult golf course. It has, to me it has a lot of variety. You got to kind of fit a lot of the shots into the fairways. The way it's playing right now, it's playing very long, with the rain they had two nights ago. Very, very long. Or I'm getting shorter, one of the two.
But I know that, I know Kerry Haigh, who is going to set it up, has already said there are five or six tees that we should play in the practice rounds farther up, farther forward than we have. We have played them farther forward. So we got to know the golf course maybe from a couple different distances. And I'm sure glad we're not playing the back tees here, that's for sure. This is a long golf course.
KELLY ELBIN: You tied for 25th here in the Senior Open in 2004. What are the keys to success here?
TOM WATSON: Well, there's certain holes here that are very difficult. 9 and 10. Those two holes right there are very tough.
The finish here, 16 and, 15, 16, 17, and 18, that's a great finish. You've got, you used to have to hit some long shots, very, very precisely. And these greens are Robert Trent Jones greens that, they have just all kinds of slopes to them, different the greens are really big, but they play small. And you have to play a lot of very competent shots to have a good chance at it.
The bunkers are very difficult to play out of. The sand is very tight. Meaning that the club can bounce into the ball and you can't get the club face underneath the ball out of the sand.
So you drive the ball if you have a short bunker shot from these deep bunkers you have no chance. They're very, very difficult.
So, stay out of the bunkers, hit it really long, and hit it straight, I guess that's nothing new.
KELLY ELBIN: Open it up for questions.
Q. Guys sometimes talk about a window of opportunity to win Major Championships. That's something that obviously has not applied to you in your career given what did you at 2009 in Turnberry and also Valhalla a couple years ago. Is that just your competitive nature or do you think there is a window for certain guys?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think there are windows. You look at the great champions in, with a couple exceptions like Nicklaus and maybe Woods and Snead, they all had their really, really productive years in a short period of time. Six or seven, eight years like that.
With the exception of Woods and Nicklaus and Sam, they had, that's when their window of opportunity hits. The same way out here on the Champions Tour.
The window is there. I've been lucky enough to, to win the Senior PGA a decade apart. That's been my last win out here. I hope it's not my last. But as I said in the ceremony, if it is my last, it's not a bad way to go out.
Q. How many yards would you say you've lost since you hit your longest shots and have there been any swing changes that caused that to happen because of maybe hip replacement or for any reason have you changed your swing?
TOM WATSON: I think it's the body changes and I have lost I probably lost about four or five miles per hour in my club head speed. And that translates into probably about 10 yards of carry with the driver.
63. That's how old I am. So I'm starting to see it. It's just part of the process. The problem is your ego gets in the way. You say, "I can hit that 7 iron 169 yards." No, I can't.
I can hit it 162 yards. I can't hit it 169 yards. And that's the ego. That's what we have to fight.
I remember on the upswing when I was a kid I told the story that, when I was a youngster, I never played golf from the first of September until maybe the first of April every year. I played football and basketball in middle school. And I was 11, 12, 13 years old I was playing other sports and golf was just kind of a summer sport. That was it.
I remember I went from one summer to the next and I can't remember whether it was 11 to 12 or 12 to 13, the first round I played I was playing by myself, carrying my bag, first drive went down there, okay. And I took a 7 iron out for my second shot, where I hit a 7 iron the year before and I floated it, I flew it 15 yards over the green. I said, what happened here?
And then I hit a drive on the third hole, I said, I never hit it this far before. And in just those six months I gained all that distance. And I gained like, I gained a lot of distance.
That was on the upswing. And now I'm slowly inching down on the down swing now.
We'll see. Maybe I'll go to a longer driver, lighter, maybe a huge head like that (Indicating), whatever is legal. Who knows. Try to get Adams to make me something that is good for 63 year olds. They do a good job of it, but maybe there's something secret back in the back room there that they haven't brought out yet.
Q. How would you describe your game now relative to two years ago, given you've had some health issues and injuries and that type of thing.
TOM WATSON: Well, it's pretty inconsistent right now. I haven't, really haven't had a good tournament this year as far as I haven't played that much. But I haven't had a real good consistent tournament this year.
I'm playing this week and I've got Watson Challenge in Kansas City here in a couple weeks and then I have five weeks in a row I'm playing. And we'll see what happens. I hope that I get into some sort of groove. I hope my body holds up. Every now and then I hit a really good shot, but then I'm hitting some pretty lousy shots too. My consistency is way off. So that's always worrisome, especially when you're going into a Major Championship like I'm going into tomorrow.
It can turn around. It does. And usually it doesn't take much. It takes one swing a lot of times. You say, well that's the key right there. That's the key that I'll use. That's what I'm close to, I think, I think I had a couple ideas, a couple ideas, one of those two I hope works.
Q. In relationship to what was asked earlier though, how do you manage expectations yourself both as you get older and as you deal with physical issues? I would think your expectations for this week probably are somewhat different than they were a couple years ago.
TOM WATSON: Well my expectations, no, they're not too much different. No, I'm going out there with the idea that I'm going to play the type of game that's going to be, that I'll get close enough to win this tournament. And whether physically I'll be able to do that, I don't know. But that's the attitude.
I guess I got a little Arnold Palmer attitude in me. You know, Arnold is Jack was talking about Arnold and said, you know, the great thing about Arnold, I love him to death, he said, he still thinks he can do it. He still thinks he can do it. He goes out there and may not be able to, but he still thinks he can do it.
You better have a lot of that in you. It's not a bad thing to have and in fact it's a darn good thing to have in you. Because if you think you can't do it...
Q. Tom, the window you spoke about, you spoke about that attitude of still being able to do it. Can you comment briefly on Hale Irwin and what he's done out here? A few years ago he almost beat you at the Senior PGA, being four or five years older than you even. Can you talk about his run out here on this TOUR.
TOM WATSON: Yes. Hale, I've always been a great admirer of Hale. The amazing golfer, amazing performer out here. His run out here has been second to none. And I still think Hale could win out here. It's not a question. I think that Hale can win out here.
And it's not, I don't think, I think age has very little to do with the capability of Hale Irwin. I always take time to go watch Hale swing the golf club because I think he swings the golf club beautifully and it helps me swinging my golf club. He doesn't come around watch me, but I go around watching him.
KELLY ELBIN: The Ryder Cup is about 16 months away. Where is that on your radar right now in terms of following what players are doing on the PGA TOUR and then general thoughts.
TOM WATSON: Well I said I've been following the Regular Tour quite a bit. Looking at the younger players in particular, some of the guys I've been asking questions out there of who is the best young players. I asked it at the Masters, some of the players at the Masters when I was around them, I said, who do you really like out here.
And I got a list of them that I'm looking at. Because I truly believe that there will be two or three players that have never been on the Ryder Cup team before. I think that there's, there's that many good young players out there that next year will come to the fore and get in the top nine and get on the team. I think that they can do that.
Who knows, I may pick one of them. You like young blood. You like people that can putt. You also like, as I said, the three things that I want: I want heart, somebody that can play with the lead, and somebody who can play in bad conditions. And we're looking at guys that can make that 5 footer every time that they need it. Every time.
KELLY ELBIN: Thank you, Tom.
Q. You say that you look at guys that are on the PGA TOUR, but there's a guy that's an American that's playing on the European Tour, a young guy, in Peter Uihlein who just won last week. Is he someone that would be now on your radar screen, even though the system doesn't work in his favor?
TOM WATSON: I hadn't really thought about Peter. I know of him. I know he's a good player. He's got a good golf swing. He's been mentioned by some of the fellows, people I've been asking about the good young players.
KELLY ELBIN: Tom Watson, thank you very much.
TOM WATSON: Thank you.
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