Professional golfers have an uncanny ability to recall the smallest details about their game.
Club selection, wind speed, putt direction — it’s all in the memory bank. Tournaments won or lost by a good putt on the front nine or a shank on the back.
Tom Watson recalls far more good than bad from his Hall of Fame career. He won eight majors, including five British Open championships.
He insists this year’s was the last, missing the cut at the home of golf in St. Andrews in front of countless onlookers.
Much like the fading Scottish daylight that evening, Watson’s golf career is coming to a close as he returns to the 3M Championship in Blaine after a three-year absence.
He has won all over the world, but still nitpicks shots from decades ago as if they were made earlier in the day.
“I was never satisfied,” Watson said. “I wanted to practice harder than anybody to be better.”
Two weeks have passed since Watson, 65, took his final lap at an Open course. Before he waved goodbye on the 18th hole on the Swilcan Bridge he put his arm around his son Michael, his caddie that week, and took in one last glimpse of the Old Course at St. Andrews.
He had one request.
“No tears,” Watson said. “It’s been a great run here. Let’s just celebrate and enjoy the memory of this last walk.”
Watson comes to TPC Twin Cities at peace.
“It’s time,” Watson said. “I’m playing against these kids who hit the ball so much farther than I do. The toolbox is half-empty, maybe even more than that when it comes to length. The courses are just too long for old folks like me.”
Peers on the Champions Tour prefer to recall a time when that wasn’t the case.
Bernhard Langer remembers the competitiveness.
“It is one of many great things about him,” said Langer, who tied Watson for second place in the 1984 British Open at St. Andrews. “The Open was a big part of my career and Nick Faldo and I got to say farewell and goodbye as well, [but] I never could win. It was great to see that with Tom. He got the proper ovation for an amazing ball-striker who is one of the greatest players who has ever swung a club.”
Peter Jacobsen remembers the shot.
Watson’s final-round 2-iron from more than 200 yards away into 18 at Royal Birkdale set up the winning two putts at the 1983 Open.
“Tom always made the shots,” Jacobsen said. “He embraced that. Over there, you couldn’t take your eyes off [Arnold] Palmer, couldn’t take your eyes off Seve [Ballesteros] and you couldn’t really take your eyes off Tom Watson because you knew something magical was going to happen. His calm demeanor under pressure is the definition of a champion. And that shot defines him.”
Watson still considers it among the best iron shots in his career.
“When it was in the air,” Watson said with a knowing grin, “I thought, ‘That has to be close enough.’ ”
For others it’s not a single moment but a situation that separates Watson.
Mark Calcavecchia remembers the wind.
“I’ve never seen a guy hit a pure 4-iron that low and that straight into a 30 mile-per-hour wind with such control,” he said. “The first time I saw him do it I was like: ‘Duh. That’s why he wins Opens.’ ”
Yet in Calcavecchia’s mind Watson’s defining moment came at clear-skied Turnberry in 1977, the “Duel in the Sun” triumph over Jack Nicklaus.
“His eye for links golf is incredible, really,” said Calcavecchia, who was 17 and watched on TV. “It’s easy to see why he was so successful.”
Calcavecchia was part of the next wave of golfers to find British Open success after Watson. He won in a playoff at Royal Troon in 1989 for his only major championship.
The Open returns there next summer minus one of its greatest competitors.
Watson remembers them all. And he’s not alone.
The media’s flashbulbs and overall hoopla went on as darkness fell at St. Andrews to close out Watson’s Open career. Bars near the course emptied to get a final look at the bloke from Kansas City who came to their side of the ocean and dominated golf courses ancient as the game itself.
“It was humbling,” Watson said. “But you just carry on. It’s like death, the finality of it. It’s over. I was thankful to the R & A to give me one more year to play as an exemption. But it’s time.
“The greatest of all players have long, long careers.”