Watson, hearing of McCormack's view, shows no anger. "I am hardheaded," he concedes. "I'm stubborn in the sense that I think I can make it work. I will make it work. But it's not fair to say that I won't use the long putter someday, or putt cross-handed or sidesaddle. But my problem is simply making a good, consistent stroke under pressure."
Even Hogan couldn't win when the three-footers started looking like 30-footers. Watson's last Tour victory was the 1987 Nabisco Championships of Golf, and although he has threatened to win many times since—including serious runs at all four major titles—his putter, particularly on Sundays, has betrayed him. The short putts that rim out make the galleries gasp, but it's the long putts that don't reach the hole that differentiate Watson at 45 from Watson at 30. "I know if he could be as aggressive as he used to be, the fear would leave him," says Edwards, his caddie.
But Watson can't be, and the fear probably will never leave him.
He had no fear when he made his career choice. Midway through his senior year at Stanford, in December 1971, he telephoned Linda and blurted that he wanted to try tournament golf—a prospect so unwelcome to her that she rejected his proposal of marriage after graduation. ("I had eight years invested in the relationship, but I did not want to be a professional golfer's wife," she says. "I didn't want my husband to be a stranger to my children.") When she did consent, a year and a half later, it was with the understanding that Watson would play the Tour for only five years. Neither she, nor anyone else, could anticipate that he would win 32 Tour events and eight major championships in 14 years.
Watson himself sometimes comes up short in the anticipation department. Having been spared the hard choices over Vietnam and the draft, he married a Jewish woman; he embraced in-laws who are Jewish and began his married life under their roof in Kansas City; and he hired his Jewish brother-in-law, lawyer Charles Rubin, as his business manager.
These developments had certain members of the Kansas City Country Club screaming in their sleep. Founded in 1896, the mansion-bordered private club had long offered its socially prominent members sanctuary from unwanted associations. As the son of a member, however, and with his golf exploits bringing distinction to the club, Watson's domestic arrangements were tolerated. He was granted junior membership soon after graduating from college. Later, in the wake of his major championship run, proud club members hung a large painting of Watson in the club's Tap Room.
Since Watson's college major was psychology, one can assume he understood the extraordinary position his club membership put him in. He seemed to fumble for rationalizations as his two children reached school age. As if to quiet voices in his own mind, he started an annual junior golf clinic in Kansas City's Swope Park, giving away golf clubs and bringing smiles to children of diverse backgrounds. More significant, in 1980, with Charles Rubin's help, Watson launched an annual one-day golf exhibition for Children's Mercy Hospital of Kansas City—an event that has brought the world's best golfers to the heartland and raised more than $6 million for society's most vulnerable. Watson's visits to Children's Mercy, hospital insiders say, are notable for his involvement with the children and his avoidance of publicity.
But when, in 1990, progressive elements at the Kansas City Country Club put up H&R Block founder and chairman Henry Bloch for membership, Watson ran out of wriggle room. Upon learning that his club's secret, five-man membership committee had blackballed Bloch, who is Jewish, Watson wrote his letter of resignation, ending two decades of accommodation.
Today, Watson will discuss his resignation only in the broadest terms, his voice dropping almost to a whisper. "It was a very personal decision," he says. "I just didn't feel my family was welcome. It was time to say, 'Hey, let's be fair to people. Let's not judge people on the basis of race or faith.' "
Watson's reluctance to say more is explained by the effect the resignation had on his parents—particularly his father, a Kansas City insurance broker. The elder Watson, who still wears a 1950s-style crew cut at age 76, was baffled and enraged by his son's action. The two were not on speaking terms for months, and Tom had to turn to the Rubins for emotional support. Tom also got the cold shoulder from most of his father's golfing pals, including those who had welcomed him to their Saturday-afternoon games in the '60s.