PEABODY -- When Arnold Palmer passed away last September there was a big opening to fill in golf. Really big.
The sport needed a new ambassador.
Enter Tom Watson.
"There's never been a greater friend to the game of golf than Arnold Palmer, and I believe in that," said Watson.
"Of course, now I'm one of the older ones," he said. "There was a pall on the (Champions' dinner at The Masters) because of Arnie's death. Arnie was the great icon of golf. I always said he was my hero. Jack (Nicklaus) was the villain when I grew up."
Watson need not apply for the gig. He's bascially been an apprentice-in-training under Palmer.
According to those in the know, Watson is the real deal. Be it the media or fans, Watson is as kind and giving of his time and pleasantries as it gets.
One thing he's doing this week at Salem Country Club is giving a lesson that age -- he's 67 -- is just a number, albeit a tough one to conquer.
After two rounds of 1-under-69 on Thursday and Friday, Watson made the cut here at the U.S. Senior Open, bettering about 90 golfers younger than he.
Is this his time? Is this his week? Is this going to be his first "U.S. Open" championship of his storied career?
Has Watson found the Fountain of Youth in some secret well in West Peabody?
"You never get your youth back," he said after his steady round yesterday. "You never get it back."
But something is clicking. Watson, while behind Fred Couples by 20 and 30 yards, sometimes longer, on most drives, is making up for it by hitting solid irons into these difficult, rolling greens.
"If you keep yourself in decent shape, you can play well in to your 60s," said The Ambassador. "If you can keep your putting touch -- that's the main thing -- that's how people win golf tournaments.
"Boy, I could putt, get the ball up and down," he added. "I was strong; hit the ball high and long. (Now) I'm one of the shorter hitters out there."
One possible issue with Watson's game is a new passion of his ... show horses.
"I'm learning now to be a horseman and competing in a whole different arena, a cutting horse show arena," said Watson. "So I'm kind of -- golf's -- part-time golfer. Kind of want to be in that arena right there, learning how to compete against the best in the amateur divisions in the cutting horse show business. So that's my next challenge. I hope that some day I can fairly win a buckle, you know. When you win a buckle, that means you've been somewhere."
Last winter at a show in Carthage, Missouri he was awarded a check for his performance.
"I didn't know I won a check. I was in a class of six people in the 2,000 limited rider, and I go in to pay my debt, $400 for the two events I was in," he said. "And I see (the woman) writing a check out.
"And I said, what's that? She said, 'You won a check.' I said, 'I did?' I won $120. I look at that check -- man, I'm more proud of this check than winning the World Series of Golf, with a $50,000 check in my hand," recalled Watson. "I'm more proud of that $120 check than I was the $50,000 check. That was pretty cool."
With rounds like the last two, in a major championship, could Watson go past 70 years old.
"Nah," he said. "I don't see that happening. I'm having fun playing golf right now, which is most important, and I'm competing right now ... But I'm realistic about my game ... You never know. If I'm in the hunt (on Sunday afternoon), who knows? Maybe I have another one in me."
This article is written by Bill Burt from The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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