The middle-aged golf writer was following Tom Watson. He had achieved, more or less simultaneously with Watson (and in spite of a long detour behind the gallery ropes), the perimeter of the 7th green of the Augusta National course, where tributaries of traffic from the 3rd and 8th tees created an almost total strangulation of movement. From where he stood, there were five rows of moist fans encroaching on his vantage point, affording a view of Watson in action roughly equivalent to following the progress of a pot roast through the minute pane in an oven door.
The golf writer said it was his 26th Masters, and although he'd never been crazy about golf as subject matter, he liked being able to participate in this way. He compared it with holding hands at a s�ance while the central figure levitated overhead. Other writers, he said, covered the Masters from the clubhouse veranda, soaking up information from dispatches and chance interviews, like war correspondents, but he preferred walking the course. He said getting out to watch Watson had become an increasingly enjoyable experience. He said that Watson had become his favorite, though he would never admit it to the public. He said that one by one he had been dispelling, at least to his own satisfaction, the "misconceptions" about Watson.
"Misconceptions?" his companion asked.
"Charisma," the golf writer said. "For one, they say Watson has no charisma, as if it were something great golfers carry around in their bags, like a sand wedge. I've been around them for 30 years, and only a very few—Snead, Palmer, Trevino—have what could properly be defined as charisma. Hogan had about as much charisma as a bounds marker. Byron Nelson was dull copy—his words—until he won 11 tournaments in a row. Then he became Lord Byron and was discovered to be eminently quotable. Nobody accused Nicklaus of having charisma until he lost all that weight and let his hair grow. Up to then he was just a fat, brusque-talking, deadpan guy who offended half the world by beating the ears off Mr. Palmer."
The golf writer paused to participate with the gallery in a collective breath-gathering as one of the players on the green set to putt. He bobbed his head and craned his neck in an effort to catch a fragment of the action until a groan signaled the gallery's failure to get the putt home.
The heroes of the game, the golf writer said, were and are different, one from another, as Hogan was from Snead, "but they all had one charismatic quality in common: they took fewer shots to get the ball in the hole. Somehow, that eventually translates into charisma. Watson is now doing that better than anybody. And he's been doing it for three straight years. Leading money-winner. Most tour victories. Best stroke average. Player of the Year every year. Not even Nicklaus did that three years in a row, and Watson's doing it again this year. He has replaced Nicklaus as top dog, no question. Fuzzy Zoeller says Watson has 'conquered the mind.' "
Yet, the writer's companion pointed out, Will Grimsley of the Associated Press thought Watson's lack of charisma was worth underlining before the Masters tournament when he wrote a tongue-in-cheek article listing "Lanny Watson and Tom Wadkins" among the possible winners. The joke, Grimsley said, was not aimed at in-and-outer Lanny Wadkins but at Watson for not being the identifiable hero he ought to be.
"A misconception," said the golf writer. "Watson happens to have a name that doesn't stick in your ear like Nicklaus or Trevino, that's all." Also, he said, there's the inevitable correlation between the critics' eyesight and where they have had their sentiments over the years. "Golf fans cling to their heroes longer than most. Look around out here—all the older people who follow golf. They wrung their last competitive birdie out of Palmer before they embraced Nicklaus. It takes time in golf to be loved. What the general public hasn't realized yet is what an attractive guy Tom Watson is."
The golfers wrapped up business on the 7th green to polite applause. Watson, making his par, smiled and waved modestly, exposing the familiar gap between his front teeth. His looks are almost always compared with Huckleberry Finn's—nothing more charismatic than that, of course—but they are more on the order of a mature Ronny Howard's, if one can imagine Howard ever maturing. Orthodontic flaws notwithstanding, at 30 Watson is a handsome man. Thick, rust-colored hair, wayward in the Kennedy fashion; a slightly hawk-nosed profile reminiscent of—well, why not?—Redford. The smallish pupils of his bright, very light-blue eyes give him a look of intense awareness, like that of a Weimaraner, and although he is of no more than medium build—5'9", 160 pounds—his components suggest athleticism: narrow waist and sloping shoulders; a back layered across with muscle; conspicuously strong legs, like Snead and Nicklaus; and, most distinguishing, forearms as outsized as Alley Oop's. From his first year (1971) Watson has been one of the longer hitters on the tour. As with Snead, however, the blacksmith proved to have the touch of a surgeon. Watching him on a putting green at the Tucson Open in 1972, Bert Yancey was heard to say, "There's the next Arnold Palmer."
"They all complain about the 'sameness' on the tour now," said the golf writer, moving to the 8th tee. "All the young guys with Hollywood tans and hairdos, who would leave identical imprints if you put their hands in wet cement. Or no imprints at all. It's not true. It's just a cop-out for the fact that TV ratings are plummeting. But even if it were true, you'd have to say that Watson at least looks like an improvement. But forget appearances. The thing about him I like is that he's bright as hell, without being arrogant, a nice twist. Some guys complain that he's a dull interview. That's a misconception. He's only as dull as an interviewer makes him. We've gotten used to Nicklaus as an expert on everything—golf courses, travel, fatherhood, wines. The guys call Nicklaus 'Karnac the Magnificent.' "