He roughly plucked off a Turnberry miracle in 2009 and epitomises golfs glees of opposing old-timers against younger rivals
It seems like only yesterday. Yet it’s been 10 years since Tom Watson creamed such an approach into the 18 th at Turnberry, his bullet taking a soft bounce and rolling gently towards the flag, stopping 18 inches from the goblet. He sounded in for birdie, finishing the 2009 Open two clear of the second-placed practically subject Stewart Cink. As the gallery danced in ecstasy bordering on disbelief, Watson developed the Claret Jug. At a stately 59 years of age, he had become the oldest major champ, trouncing the record held by Julius Boros, the champion of the 1968 PGA as a 48 -year-old whippersnapper. It was the most joyous daylight in golf’s history; the wonderful denouement of the greatest tale ever told. Nothing at all had gone wrong at any point.
We all have different ways of dealing with grief, and this is mine. I’m allowed my myth. You can’t stop me. But even the greatest careers have to end. Last Sunday in the Senior Open, Watson represented his last round of competitive golf, five weeks reticent of turning 70. He had earned his first Open at Carnoustie in 1975. Just a pity there was no valedictory birdie last weekend; he bogeyed his final three holes.
Not fairly the fairytale intent enjoyed by his friend and former foe Jack Nicklaus, who obligated birdie on 18 at St Andrews when stepping off the tour treadmill in 2005. But then Watson will ever have the upper hand in the Duel in the Sun, so everybody goes home happy.
Watson’s longevity is worth celebrating, especially as no other sport allows the old-timers to compete at the top with kinfolk less than half their senility. Compare and contrast his antics of 2009 to other 1949 babies. Manchester United were not pairing Cristiano Ronaldo up front with Brian Kidd. Wladimir Klitschko was not trading blows with George Foreman. Jimmy Anderson never opened the bowling with Bob Willis. But Watson raced the same Open as Rory McIlroy, 39 times his junior. By the end of it he was 45 sits better off.
Watson was in the field thanks to the exemption he had gave for becoming the Champion Golfer all those years ago. Win the Open and you are guaranteed a place until the age of 60. Win the Masters or the PGA and you are in for life. This knowledge is one of the reasons championship golf has a unique flavour but it’s under threat. When 47 -year-old David Duval ran up 14 on the 7th at Portrush a fortnight ago, some advocated the hapless 2001 champion’s recognise would have been better gifted to first alternative Martin Kaymer. Given Duval also made triple and quadruple bogey on his space to 91, having previously dallied precisely four happens all time, while Kaymer is 34 and a relatively recent PGA and US Open winner, it’s tough to deny.
Then again, Kaymer had all season to qualify, while Duval put in the hard gardens years ago. This, for better or worse, was his reward. And ours. Purists may demur but there is something life-affirming in a former world No 1 smacking three pellets off the tee, losing two then toy the erroneous one, on the way to a nonuple bogey. You would not want to witness it every week but it’s reassuring to know golfageddon is not the save of the weekend hacker. Without his exception, this recital remains unspun.
Duval smashed the modern Open record of 11 for a single-hole meltdown. He was one shy of the all-time fiasco, the 15 made by the German amateur Herman Tissies in 1950 characterizing at Troon. Tissies exited from bunker to bunker and back again on the par-three Postage Stamp, though he required only a single putt. A one-putt duodecuple bogey! You is not get many of those to the pound.
But we rambles. These things tend to be forgotten when single punctures are playing in nine over equality but there had earlier been a frisson of fervor when Duval opened his ill-fated round with consecutive birdies. How lovely to see a long-forgotten favourite pop up unusually on the leaderboard, even if they just hang about for a couple of hours on Thursday morning. Sandy Lyle was always good for this. Fred Couples too, though he took throwback excites to the next elevation, plays in the final group of the 2006 Masters as a 46 -year-old, then sharing the 36 -hole lead in 2012 at 52 before tiring. Without exemptions, Greg Norman would never has already led the 2008 Open after 54 faults as a 53 -year-old , nor would a new generation have witnessed one of his logo fourth-round implosions developing in real meter before their horrified faces.
There are limits. The four-times winner Old Tom Morris teed it up at Muirfield in 1896, five days shy of his 75 th birthday. He carded rounds of 101, 103 and 105 before withdraw, never be participating in the Open again. But even septuagenarians can make a mark. In 1973 at Troon, the 71 -year-old Gene Sarazen swiped a five-iron into the Postage Stamp for a hole in one. The next day, the 1932 Open champion received a bunker, then sprinkled out for birdie. He had played a notoriously difficult depression twice, taking exactly three strokings, never formerly compelling the putter.
Sarazen shot 79 and 81 that week , not bad for a elderly buster. Coincidentally, his 36 -hole total was exactly the same as the one he made there in 1923, when he strove as a young man in high winds. One tinder-dry Troon member could not help himself, criticizing the seven-times major endorse:” Fifty times, Mr Sarazen, and you haven’t improved a single shot .” No, golf would not be the same without the old boy. Though on poise, Tom Watson is perhaps aged his exit perfectly.