Instead, here was Simpson, comparing the U.S. Open with his last victory, the third of his career, this year's Greater Greensboro Open. "This was intense," he admitted. "But so was Greensboro." Greensboro?
Oh, it had all set up so sweetly. Just arriving at Olympic was fresh. Here was a place where the wood came in trees (30,000 of them), not railroad ties; where the rough really was; and where the greens, said a member of the greens crew, Kevin Kelly, "are like Russian newspapers. Very hard to read." So fast and San Franciscan were the greens that occasionally players lined up chips with their backs to the holes.
Mac O'Grady summed up everybody's feelings when he said, "The inclinations and topography of Olympic Club already disturb the vestibular semicircular canals of my inner-ear balancing centers." Does that mean Mac is a little dizzy? It was sort of like putting down Lombard Street. At one point, Jim Thorpe had a two-foot downhill putt, "and I was lagging." He left it short.
Strange occurrences were commonplace. On the 18th on Saturday, Tommy Nakajima, the Japanese star, hit a ball into a tree with bark and bite. If Olympic's greens weren't holding, this tree was. The ball was so stuck that even 18-year-old Kevin Moriarty, a fan, couldn't find it—and he went 40 feet straight up looking for it. Nakajima made a double bogey, taking him from two back of the leader to four. He was last seen seven shots behind and stuffing a chain saw into his bag.
And then there was Senior Open champion Dale Douglass, who wasn't acting his age. At 51, Douglass was the oldest man in the field, but was still only four strokes behind the leaders on Saturday, and this without using a cart the whole week. He finished 31st, which was 15 places better than a younger competitor, Jack Nicklaus, 47, who at 138 actually was within one shot of the second-round lead but who played the weekend in a natty 76-77. "All I want to be is 22 years old again for this one week," Nicklaus said during a practice round, but it was Watson who got younger—and rid himself of burdens—every day at old Olympic.
"You feel like you're climbing up a hill and you're on sand," Watson said in trying to describe the slump. Of course, people didn't want definitions. They wanted explanations. So they invented some, says his wife, Linda. "Pretty soon it was, 'Hey, did you hear?' Vicious, terrible things. It was rough." Watson said the rumors about him have "hurt my wife and my family," and Linda explained why. "Look," she says. "My job is to be a wife and a mother. And when you start hearing, 'Hey, I know why he's losing. He's got a lousy wife and a lousy marriage,' it doesn't make you feel very good. I had no way to defend myself."
What really happened to Watson during those three years might be that he lost his desire to beat his brains in at the Buick Opens and the Canon-Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Classics. "Maybe it was just a matter of me growing up a little bit," said Tom. "Maybe it was a matter of me getting a little more mature. Thinking more about being a father. Not being so one-dimensional.... It's not a bad thing. But the fans don't understand it, and the press doesn't understand it, either."
Bored, Watson took five weeks off last year and never picked up a club. The rest refreshed him. "You don't know how nice it is just to change a light bulb," he said. "Usually, if Linda were to say, 'There's a light bulb missing,' I'd be saying, 'Oh well, I'll see ya. I'm going to Westchester.' "
What Watson never stopped pining for, though, were majors championships, so he set out this year with that in mind. And what do you know, if Friday didn't find him leading one, tied at three under par with another redhead, the sartorially slick Mark Wiebe, who became the first person in history to lead the Open in a designer sweatshirt. People may remember Wiebe's sweatshirt more than they remember him, after his horrendous finishing 77-79.
Watson, however, never melted, and he prepared himself for Sunday by laying his fears and hopes buck naked on the table. "I want to win when my guts are on the line, he said. When it really means something." Watson, unlike Simpson, knew that this was something worth losing sleep over. Maybe almost as much as Greensboro. "Let's face it," Watson said. "I'm nervous. I'm about to play maybe the most important round of golf in my career. I know it. You know it. You'll write it. That's the game."