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At Pembroke Country Day, a small private school in Kansas City, Watson was a quarterback on the football team that was ranked in the state, and a guard on the basketball team that went to the quarterfinals of its division in the state tournament. He was also a broad jumper who leaped 19 feet when he was a freshman, but his true passion was hunting. He fired a gun for the first time when he was 10. "When we went quail hunting I'd wake up six or seven times during the night, checking to see if the sun had come up yet, and it never came up," Tom recalls. "Mostly I'd walk behind my father, and if a bird got up, I'd hit the deck."
Ray Watson owns one duck blind and leases another near Mound City in the Missouri River bottoms, and he keeps an apartment over a pool hall in Mound City because of its convenience to the blinds. From the end of October until early December the flooded cornfields of the bottomland are way stations for thousands of migrating Canada and blue geese and green-winged teal.
"I love everything about hunting," says Tom. "When you're out duck hunting before the sun is up, before there is any light in the sky, there are no sounds at all. Then you listen to the bottoms arise. The ducks that are out on the water sound like a freight train when they get up."
The Watson family was close, and Tom's upbringing was gentle. Although his father was his mentor, Tom can remember being reprimanded about his golf only once. "It was at the Western Amateur in Rockford, Ill. I had shot 74-75 in the first two rounds. He told me, 'Get on the stick! You're too good to be playing like this.' I think the reason was that my grandmother was sick then, and dying. It wasn't that I wasn't trying. All the rest of the time my father was encouraging."
Tom, in turn, was easy on his family. "I don't think he caused his parents a moment's problem ever," says Willits. When the Watsons play golf now, Tom has to give his father nine strokes. "That's too much," he says. "I have to shoot 67 to beat him."
Tom's only brush with authority was a three-day suspension from school when he was 14. It was his first date with Linda, a school dance, and he was caught smoking. "I was showing her how cool I was," he says.
Tom and Linda met when their schools staged a joint production of The Pirates of Penzance. Tom was stage manager; Linda was in the chorus. Linda Watson is as small, dark and exotic as Tom is fair, freckled and Missourian, yet they are so completely a unit that it is impossible to think of one without the other. It was Linda who held up their wedding for almost two years while she got used to the idea of being married to a touring golf pro. "I was family-oriented," she says. "My father was a businessman who worked nine to five every day. I was accustomed to a certain atmosphere, and I wasn't sure about traveling and living on the run. I wasn't sure it was right for our marriage, or for me."
When Tom went west to Palo Alto, Linda went east to a junior college in Pennsylvania and then transferred to Mills College in Oakland, across the bay from Stanford, for her last two years. After graduating, like Tom with a major in psychology, she went to work for her father as a bookkeeper in his real-estate business in Kansas City. Now she does the same for Tom. She also handles his appointments, his clothes, his correspondence and his travel plans. "She leaves him free to think about golf," says a friend. "If I'd known how great the tour was going to be, I'd have married him in college," Linda says now.
She is smart, loyal and irrepressibly gregarious. She talks up a typhoon with whoever falls in step with her on a golf course. She calls her husband Honey or Tommy. He calls her Toad. They have known each other, as Linda points out, more than half their lives, and they obviously enjoy each other's company.
Thanks to his extraordinary talent and an enormous amount of trying, Tom Watson, formerly Flytrap Finnegan, has broken through to a level of the game that few players will ever reach. Watching him play can be an unusually pleasant experience, because his unique verve comes across to the watcher.