Old Tom at the Open again

July 16th, 2011

Regular readers of this blog (two men and a dog in Kazakhstan) may be surprised to know that I don’t play golf, though I’ve written about it quite a few times. So much to do and so little time. I do enjoy watching it though. It one of the few sports that you can be certain is clean and where there’s no cheating. But what I really like about it is that it’s such a visible match of man against the elements and it exposes all the good and bad points in the players’ personality – the confidence or lack of it, the nerves, the determination, the composure, the imagination, the ability to accept the rub of the green or the bounce of the fairway. On the golf course under the cameras there’s no place to hide.

So here we are at the Open again, and what a privilege it is to watch the play and the demeanour of Tom Watson. Two years ago Tom did something that was by all reasonable measure quite simply impossible. At 59 and having recently had a hip operation he gave the youngsters a lesson in links golf and led for most of the tournament and was a stroke ahead going to the last hole. Forget the fact that he missed the putt that everyone in the watching world except maybe Stewart Cink’s mother wanted him to hole and then lost the play off – he finished joint first in the Open at 59. That was simply unimaginable.

Now here he is again at 61 and still competing, and we have the lovely story of him playing alongside the very promising young amateur Tom Lewis (40 years younger) – who was actually named after him! Surely only in golf could such a thing be imaginable let alone actually happen. To any golf historian the very words Old Tom and Young Tom have an immediate resonance of course. And here again we seem to have the youngster taking over from the revered older man with a tournament-leading first round score.

But Watson has outlasted not just his contemporaries (and of course we tragically lost his old rival Seve recently) but many of the stars that came after him, with a swing that is the purest you could ever hope to see and has stood up to everything that his favourite links winds have thrown at him. Indeed there is the suspicion that if the winds had blown more over these first two days he might have been nearer the leaders than he is. The crowds everywhere love him, though up here in Scotland I sense there is maybe even more affection, as he seems to have been adopted as one of us, a man who plays golf as we feel it should be played. He handles himself with dignity and modesty and clearly enjoyed his young namesake’s play.

You’d think that would be all you could expect, with maybe making the cut as a bonus when ex-champions all around, not to mention the top two players in the world, were failing to do so. But no, this legend had one more present for the crowds – a 4 iron clipped perfectly at the 6th hole that never left the line of the flag and took one bounce before diving in for a hole in one. You really couldn’t make this stuff up because no-one would believe you. And once again he handled it with grace and charm. A truly special player and man.

The forecast for tomorrow is for bad weather – we may not have seen the last of Tom even yet.

Entry Filed under: sport

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