Greetings fellow golfers.
The beginning…my father, Ray Watson, started my life of golf in 1955 at age six. He put a cut-down, hickory-shafted 5 iron in my hands and immediately taught me the correct grip and stance. A scratch handicap player, Dad loved golf with genuine passion which he instilled in me throughout our many years together. I was a very lucky kid to have a dad who knew and loved the game as well as he did, and who was willing to teach me this game so early in my life.
I grew up with the game, started playing in competition at an early age, and after four years attending Stanford University turned professional in the summer of 1971. I had won a few amateur tournaments but nothing on a national scale, so in turning professional my future was an unknown for me. How would I do? I really didn’t know. I did know I had some of the necessary tools, such as hitting the ball high and far, and I considered myself a good chipper and putter.
I was fortunate to qualify for the PGA Tour on my initial attempt, but once out on Tour there was quite a lot of uncertainty. Could I make the 36 hole cut so I didn’t have to qualify with the other rabbits the next Monday just to get in that week’s tournament? Could I ever break par on these tough pro courses? Could I succeed in any way? Questions…questions.
I certainly didn’t have the answer to any of those questions, so I chose the one avenue for success that I knew would give me my best chance of finding answers: work harder than anyone else out there. That meant practicing harder and longer than anyone else. As Ben Hogan said, you find “it” out on the range. If I worked as hard as I was able, I would know whether or not I had the skills to be a successful professional golfer. If this plan failed, I would have given my best, my ultimate, and I would still be young enough to pursue another career.
So I worked and practiced constantly to improve my game, until dark on many days, and sometimes on into the dark to improve my feel when I couldn’t see the ball. I was looking for “it,” trying to figure “it” out.
That “it” was fleeting, but I began to get “it” for stretches of holes and sometimes entire rounds. I eventually reached the point of contending for victory, but that first victory was elusive. I failed on several occasions when I had the chance to win. After a few years of failing and deserving the choker moniker, I finally got the hang of “it” and had my breakout year in 1977 when I won both the Masters and The Open at Turnberry beating the very best player in the game, my friend and adversary Jack Nicklaus. I continued on this hot streak for several more years savoring many wonderful victories in The Masters, US Open, The Open, plus a number of other victories both at home and abroad.
This streak of good play ended rather abruptly in 1985 as I struggled to find “it” again for several more years. I found “it”, this time for good, in 1994 which allowed me to win late into my 40’s and on into my 50’s and 60’s on the Champions Tour. It’s been a long career of highs and lows. I feel fortunate to have won as many as I have.
Now I want to pass along the answer to the question asked of me most frequently: “Which of all your victories do you savor the most?” Which one most satisfied my competitive spirit and was my number one all time favorite?
It was NOT winning the tournament I wanted to win most: the 1982 National Open at Pebble Beach, my favorite golf course on the planet, with a pretty lucky chip shot to again beat out Jack. And it wasn’t winning the ’77 Open at Turnberry. Nor was it any of the six other major championships I have been fortunate enough to win. It wasn’t even my first victory as a pro in the 1974 Western Open…no, it was none of these.
My most memorable victory wasn’t even a professional victory.
It occurred on the same Saturday on which Ken Venturi struggled valiantly in the June summer heat of Washington, DC, to win the 1964 National Open at Congressional Country Club. I was 14 years old, playing in the finals of the Kansas City Men’s Match Play Championship, on a similarly hot summer day against a man twice my age – Bob Devine. He had me three down after 19 holes, but I came back to prevail 4&2 winning on a conceded par putt. Winning against the men who were two and three times my age changed my life right then and there.
I now knew what I was wanted to do for the rest of my life. My dreams of becoming an Arnie or Jack, a Bobby or Billy, a Gene or Stan became focused with that victory. My life’s ambition was set: I was going to be a professional golfer.
After I won, the understated pride of my father was palpable as he hugged me and simply said “Well done, son.” This victory when I was just 14-years-old was indeed a life-affirming moment and will always be the one victory I will cherish the most.
Bet none of you expected this!