SI Vault
John Garrity
July 17, 1995
While golfing great Tom Watson remains a hero on the course, his way of looking at the world and his penchant for speaking out have turned him into a heavy off it
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July 17, 1995

Point Of View

While golfing great Tom Watson remains a hero on the course, his way of looking at the world and his penchant for speaking out have turned him into a heavy off it

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Asked about McCord, Edwards says, "It's not the steak anymore, it's the sizzle. And Gary McCord is the sizzle. I remember walking onto the 18th green [at Doral] one time and hearing the sound of a kazoo coming from the TV tower. Tom said, 'That's just McCord, trying to be funny.' " Edwards shakes his head. "It's become a carnival out here, a circus. You look at the way society's going, where there's no respect for anything."

Equally distressed by the McCord backlash is another longtime Watson friend, former U.S. Golf Association president Sandy Tatum. "Tom is anything but stuffy," Tatum says. "He can be scatological, he can be epithetical. Tom, unfortunately, may be out of step with the taste of the American public. But that certainly doesn't mean Tom is wrong."

Tatum, who has played as Watson's amateur partner in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am since the mid-1970s, got a preview of the McCord affair when Watson denounced Murray for antics with the gallery in 1993 that included Murray's waltzing of an elderly woman into a bunker without her consent. Many Tour players defended Murray, but neither Watson nor Tatum bought into the performer's reprise of his Caddyshack role. "When Murray picks up a woman and throws her into a bunker. I think that's way across the line," says Tatum. "And Tom's the kind of person who would think so. And say so."

Tatum sees a clear distinction between public decorum and private fun. He recalls the time 12 years ago when he, Watson and golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. were designing the Golf Links at Spanish Bay, just up the peninsula from Pebble Beach. After a day's work the three, joined by cartoonist Hank Ketchum, shared a late dinner at Pebble Beach's Club 19. "We had a delightful dinner," Tatum says, "with copious quantities of some very good wine. And toward the end of the meal, Tom disappeared for a bit, then returned with a little grin on his face. It's 11 o'clock, and he's got a wedge and three golf balls. 'Come on,' he says. 'Let's go play The Shot.'

"This is February following the June that he'd won the U.S. Open by chipping in at the 17th to beat Jack Nicklaus"—known ever since, in Watson's circle, as The Shot.

"So out we go to the 17th green. Pitch dark, there's no moon. We have a hell of a time trying to decide where The Shot was played from. Everybody's got an opinion, and Tom's doesn't matter a whit; nobody's interested in what Tom's got to say. But we finally get it all sorted out, and we spend almost half an hour playing The Shot. And it was absolutely hilarious. I've got to tell you, Tom would not have won the Open that night.

"So there's not an iota of stuffiness," adds Tatum. "But a round of competitive golf is a serious obligation, and Tom thinks of it that way."

Indeed, Watson is rarely seen wisecracking, a la Fuzzy Zoeller, or flinging rubber snakes in the manner of his friend, Lee Trevino. Watson's tournament demeanor is so focused, so dour, that one understands why the Scots have practically granted him honorary citizenship. "I always felt as if he played with blinders on," says Nicklaus, who served as Watson's foil in four of the greatest duels in golf history—Turnberry 1977, Augusta '77 and '81 and Pebble Beach '82. "Tom reminds me of Ben Hogan in that respect," says Wadkins. "I played a lot with Ben Hogan, and he'd say, 'I don't like to play jolly golf.' I don't think Tom likes to play jolly golf, either."

Friends say the two Watsons—the midnight prankster and the gimlet-eyed competitor—have coexisted since he was a teenager in the early 1960s and a small group of grownup golfers let him into their Saturday-afternoon game at the Kansas City Country Club. At 14, Watson was the Kansas City Match Play champion; his father, Ray, was an accomplished player as well, having advanced to the fourth round in the '50 U.S. Amateur. So the tone of those Saturday outings was at once collegial and competitive.

"I learned how to needle and how to take the needle, how to laugh and have fun," Watson says. "But all the people who played golf with my dad were serious golfers—serious meaning they loved the game. Every time they hit a golf shot they were there for one purpose only, and that was to hit it the best they could."

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