The recently concluded British open golf tournament was memorable in more ways than one. Till recently it used to be British open and aptly so as it was held in the British Isles. That it is being held continuously for over 100 years is also true. Then why did they change the name to The Open? Several reasons. When Americans have their Augusta and the US open, the British have their British open. By this in what way they are better than the Americans? So they called it The Open. They may have scored some brownie points over the Americans. But what makes the British open, sorry, The Open championship unique is that it is played on a links course. Links is the name given to golf courses which are built on the seaside property and these courses have an entirely different character and to play them one needs special skills. For one there will be no trees lining the fairways. It appears bare and barren. There are howling winds which will make shot making and club selection very tough. There are also a large number of sand traps which are better termed as death traps. These have vertical banks rarely seen in the normal courses. This year’s open was made more difficult by the rough grass which was tangled and left unattended. A wayward ball going there was virtually unplayable as evidenced by the many who took penalty drops which meant loosing a stroke and distance. Therefore even the comparatively short four and five pars were unforgiving to say the least. That the likes of Tiger Woods could not even make the cut speaks of the special talent required to play the Links golf.
So much for the tournament. Now coming to the man who won and lost The Open. Tom Watson. Tom is now 59 years old that means he is running 60. He was the oldest competitor and the youngest was 16 year old Italian amateur who teamed up with Watson on the first two days [he made the cut]. Walking nearly ten kms daily under these conditions and playing competition golf of the highest standard for four to five hours every day for four days requires great stamina and fitness. That a 59 year old not only did it but almost won The Open is going to go down in the record books as one of the greatest golf tournaments ever played. Normally seniors [those above 50] don’t compete in open tournaments and if they do it is for the sake of the thrill and pleasure and sometimes they don’t want to turn down the invitation for such a prestigious event. But Tom Watson is made different from the usual senior players. He not only competed but almost won! He led from the front and was leading on all the four days and when the claret Jug was his for the taking; he gave it away to the winner, fellow American, Stewart Cink. Millions of viewers must have felt like I did that a thief surreptitiously snatched the prize away from the real winner, The half smile on the face of Watson which was present on all the four days of intense struggle became a bit rueful when he lost the cup on the extra holes that were played, but there was no bitterness what so ever.
A story is told of Watson, when under his leadership the US team lost the Rider cup to the Europeans some years ago. Rider cup brings out a lot of emotions as the national honor is at stake unlike the other majors where individuals compete. The whole team especially the rookies were in tears and there was great sorrow in the locker room. But where was the captain? No where to be seen. Concerned players went around looking for him and ultimately found him on the balcony of the club house sitting with a cigar in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other with the now famous half smile on the face. He appears to have gently admonished the losing Americans,’ loosing is not important but the way you played is, and for me you guys played well and that is why I am celebrating, come and join me. Whether the players joined him or not or the story itself is true or not I don’t know. But it reflects the man’s extra ordinary character. Like Bobby Jones, Tom Watson too will be another legend in the golf lore of the future.
In the end what did he say? I will be back next year!