There are athletes who are content with riding off into the sunset, and those who hang on to the playing dream far too long. And then there's Tom Watson, whose professional golf career is like the opposite of a disclaimer for mutual funds.
Past success does seem to guarantee future results.
Had Watson simply chugged along on the Champions Tour after becoming eligible 11 years ago, it would have been good enough. Watson arrived with 39 PGA Tour victories, including five British Opens, two Masters and a U.S. Open.
At age 61, Watson this week is making his third start at the 3M Championship. Since his last go-round at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine in 2007, a week after he won the Senior British Open at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland, Watson has won four more times. He won this year's Senior PGA Championship in May in a playoff over David Eger.
"We're professionals; we're out here to make money," Watson said this week. "And we can still make a heck of a lot playing at a later age in life. All other sports, all other athletes, there is no such arena."
Yet to this day, Watson remains his toughest -- and perhaps only -- critic.
"I haven't been spot on with a lot of things, but I've hit enough good shots to know the swing is there," he said. "I trust my swing. But I certainly haven't been able to consistently hit really good shot after really good shot."
He's hit enough, anyway, to still turn heads.
"Undoubtedly, there is no question that Tom Watson throughout his career has been one of the very best," said Hale Irwin, 66, the all-time victories leader (45) on the Champions Tour. "We can all learn from Tom. When he was first coming out on tour, you could see the stardom. It was just waiting to emerge, and it didn't take long."
'I had it in my grasp'
For as accomplished a career as Watson has had -- he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988 -- the near-misses he has endured since last appearing in a Champions Tour event here have made the most news.
Watson arrived at Scotland's Turnberry Resort for the 2009 British Open with only one other top-20 finish in that major championship since a tie for 10th in 1997. Five times in that 11-year span, Watson failed to make the cut.
But something inspiring happened on the links course that week. Watson was cool in the moment and clutch when it mattered early, trailing by a stroke after the first round and tied for the lead after Friday.
"Just because you're 55 or 60 doesn't mean you can't play," said Mark Calcavecchia, who was a shot behind Watson and Steve Marino after two rounds at Turnberry in 2009. "And he's certainly amazing."
Watson held the lead outright after 54 holes and was an 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole away from one of the greatest sports stories ever. Alas, he missed and fell apart in the four-hole playoff with whippersnapper Stewart Cink.
"When people bring it up, I don't mind talking about it," Watson said. "It was quite the British Open in 2009. I had it in my grasp, let's put it that way, and I let go. It was a big disappointment, but that week I was on a golf course in which I could compete against the kids. And they're getting fewer and far between these golf courses where I can go against the long hitters."
The following April, Watson tied his career low at Augusta National with a first-round 67 at the Masters. He eventually fell back to a tie for 18th place, but at 60, he finished ahead of long-hitting 20-somethings such as Dustin Johnson.
"I've had some good times against the kids," Watson said.
Still going strong
Watson will tee off in Friday's first round with Fred Couples and Nick Price. The trio will do so in front of large, adoring galleries -- which never gets old.
"I'll be the short knock in the group," Watson laughed. "But I still love to compete."
On Saturday, the Greats of Golf Challenge kicks off featuring 12 marquee names. Miller Barber and Lee Trevino -- who both finished runner-up to Watson in tournaments in their careers -- are among the names.
Another of the greats is Dave Stockton, who gave Watson some pre-Champions Tour advice he still revisits today.
"He told me, 'This is the greatest mulligan in the history of sport,'" Watson said.
True -- even if Watson hardly needed the do-over.