Tatum respects Watson's privacy, which is why their relationship has endured and why its importance to both men has only increased with the passage of time. Tatum views Watson as a friend, but Watson says he and Tatum have "what you might call a father-son relationship." (That's about as much psychobabble as you're going to get from Watson. A note for the shrinks: Tatum and Ray Watson know one another; they played golf together at Stanford before Tom was born.) Tatum does not give Watson unsolicited advice. As a result Watson seeks his counsel.
When Tatum does give advice to Watson, it almost always comes in the form of a letter. "A conversation can have an element of pressure—the need to respond instantly—that is not always useful," says Tatum. Watson, not one to save letters, has kept every one he has received from Tatum, on subjects ranging from Watson's strained relationship with Player to Watson's relationship with his wife. Some of the letters are jokes, meant for distribution. (Earlier this year, Watson received a letter from Tatum that began, "An unimpeachable source has told me that on the practice tee at Bay Hill you indulged in a grossly public disparagement of my golf swing. My informant identifies your performance as 'hilarious.' If Rubin has not already done so, he should advise you that public disparagement of a person's golf swing is a common law tort.") Most of the letters are shared with nobody.
On the subject of the Watsons' pending divorce, Tatum says he finds the breakup wrenching, for he and his wife, Barbara, have a great friendship with Linda Watson, too. The Tatums know firsthand that Linda and Tom Watson had many good times and good years together. And that's all Sandy Tatum will say. Tom leaves any public discussion of the issue to Rubin, Linda's brother. "I have a personal, legal and emotional responsibility to all the parties, including the children, including my parents, and they're very angry," Rubin says. "Tom was, literally and figuratively, a member of our family. On the High Holidays, Tom always went to synagogue with the family. It's been extremely difficult, for all of us. Sandy has helped me get through this. I commiserate with him. He commiserates with me. One day I'm his rock. The next day, he's mine."
Tatum worries about what will happen to Linda Watson, who declined to be interviewed for this story. "For virtually half her life she has been Mrs. Tom Watson, wife of the professional golfer," Tatum says. In fact Linda and Tom started dating in high school, went to college near one another and married soon after graduating. "She is smart, beautiful, energetic, fiery, loyal. People will always be attracted to her. But she's going to have to define herself in a new way."
Half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, and viewed that way it seems illogical that Watson's divorce is causing such a stir in golf. In a way Watson is paying for his perceived rectitude, for two famous moments of righteousness that have defined his public image. One came in 1983, when he accused Player of cheating in the Skins Game. The other came in 1990, when he quit the Kansas City Country Club because a membership applicant was rejected solely, it seemed to Watson, because he was Jewish. (Watson is not Jewish, but his wife and children are.) There are those two incidents, plus a quarter century of playing the most public of games with unflinching honesty—this is Watson's public legacy.
Of course, none of that has anything to do with the compatibility of a husband and a wife in the darkened corridors of their shared lives. As Tatum points out, it's not as if Watson went around saying he was always perfect. What he was was always right. That has been evident in the press tent, on the course, on the practice green, where he would occasionally ask fellow professionals for help, then dismiss their suggestions with a curt, "That's wrong." At night, over dinner, on the second or third or fourth glass of wine, he would become only more sure of himself.
Few people suspected that Watson had a drinking problem. Tatum was not one of them. Tatum, mostly for his own amusement and record, has written about his golf experiences with Watson, and the anecdotes, invariably charming, almost always involve some consumption of Scotch or red wine or Irish whiskey. In one writing Tatum describes Watson as a "moderate drinker." But not a problem drinker. One day Tatum, a light drinker himself, got a call from Rubin informing him that Watson had given up all manner of drink. He just gave it up, cold turkey.
"I stopped drinking because while drinking I did some things that I didn't like," Watson says. He doesn't elaborate, but he realizes he's lucky. He has left no legacy of smashed cars and smashed lives. Rubin says the drinking was not an issue in the dissolution of the marriage. The sense one gets is that there were a few boozy coat-and-tie nights when Watson was supposed to stand at a podium and say smart things but instead slurred his way through after-dinner remarks. A proud man was embarrassed, that's all.
He's still proud. "I stopped by myself," Watson says. "If I hadn't been able to, I'd have gotten some help. My dad's given me the AA literature, but I haven't read it." Reminded that the American Medical Association classifies alcoholism as a disease, Watson says, "They're wrong; I think they're wrong. Drinking is a choice. It's a social issue, a peer-pressure issue." He pauses and adds, "There may be a genetic component to it." Vintage Watson, with a twist. By going public, Watson may improve some lives, including his own. By giving up alcohol, he may improve his golf game. "He's taken the problem head-on, typical of Tom, and handled it decisively," says Tatum. "That's his character."
Now a nearly vintage Watson is back on the golf course. He's tied for the lead through three rounds of the rain-interrupted AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which will be concluded on the Monday after the PGA in mid-August. He has already made more money this year than in any of his previous 26 seasons on tour. He's likely to make the Presidents Cup team this year and possibly the Ryder Cup team in '99. Tatum is awed by how, with so much happening in Watson's life so fast, his golf has been so spectacular. Or maybe that's why his golf is so spectacular? There's no explaining it, except to say golf requires hands, head and heart in equal measure. Watson's life is either highly discombobulated or hugely simplified. Watson can make either case. Tatum can, too.