Read an Excerpt
I’VE BEEN COLLABORATING ON instruction writing with Tom Watson for thirty years now, and been a grateful recipient of his swing advice. My grip will never be strong enough to suit him, but he persists. Boy, does he persist.
You get the feeling that he cares as much about your game as he cares about his own, and that he enjoys working and playing with average golfers as much as with tour players. He has gone overseas for The Open a week early to play links courses with old high-school pals from Kansas City. He relishes coaching his partners in pro-ams and corporate outings.
A strong traditionalist, he just plain loves all aspects of the game, from its earliest history to its latest techniques. As he grows older himself, he has developed a special feel for instruction that promotes longevity. If that doesn’t make him unique among the great players, it makes him one of the rare few.
“The most amazing thing about him,” says Jerry Tarde, the editor in chief of Golf Digest, “is that his interest in the instructional aspects of the game remains undimmed by the passage of time. As opposed to other superstars who either have a withering interest or never had much at all.”
Watson’s quest for learning and improving is never-ending, and his own swing reflects it. Leading teachers and players believe he is swinging better than he’s ever swung.
On the practice range at a major championship not long ago, Padraig Harrington turned around to see whose shots were making such a crisp, pure sound. “I’ve never heard or seen a ball hit like that,” Harrington marveled. It was Watson.
You no doubt are familiar with Watson’s age-defying feats in recent years. He lost the 2009 British Open in a playoff at nearly sixty years of age and not long removed from hip replacement surgery, captivating the entire world of sports and a broader public as well.
In 2010 he hit the leaderboard in the early rounds of the Masters, made the cut, and finished under par in a tie for 18th place. Then he made the cut in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he won it in 1982, playing on a special exemption probably meant to be sentimental and ceremonial. Watson doesn’t do sentimental and ceremonial.
He was paired for the first two rounds with young international stars Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. Their ages combined didn’t total his sixty. Watson finished 29th—ahead of both of them.
At one point over the weekend, a young man in the gallery shouted, “You rock, Tom Watson!”
It’s fitting that Watson became the second golf professional emeritus at the five-star Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, succeeding the late Sam Snead. Snead could have given Old Man River two a side; he was the oldest man to win a PGA Tour title (at fifty-two) and contend in a major championship (third in the PGA Championship at sixty-two).
He is one of the role models Watson credits in this book. Both had long swings built to last and competitive fires that never needed stoking.
So how does a legendary golfer produce a book like this? How much does Watson really get involved? Here’s a snapshot of the process. He and I and Dom Furore, a top golf photographer, get together for a week at a golf course, in this case the Greenbrier. I know that sounds enviable, but consider that the work days began at dawn and didn’t end till dusk.
Watson demonstrates a topic, Dom photographs it digitally, I capture Watson’s commentary on a tape recorder. Afterward the recording is transcribed with copies for Watson and me, and Dom prints the photos. Watson picks the best pictures, often making notes on the proof sheets to suggest graphic highlighting. Watson and I go back and forth until we’re satisfied with the text, then we both review the finished layouts. He could not be more involved in the entire process, start to finish.
A word of explanation to our left-handed and/or lady golfing friends. We realize that the accepted language of the game isn’t ideal, intended as it is for right-handed, male players. Over the years, leading publications like Golf Digest have experimented with “neutral” references that seemed forced and unnatural, and caused more confusion for most people than the usual terminology. We hope you will make the conversions that may well have become second nature by now.
And I hope Watson’s swing advice helps you as much as it has helped me over the golfing years. May there be many more for all of us. It’s not called the game of a lifetime frivolously.
© 2011 Tom Watson