ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The name Old Tom is synonymous with St. Andrews.
Millions of fans the world over will be hoping that’s a good omen for the 139th Open Championship this week over the Old Course.
The world’s elite assembles for the 150th anniversary of the game’s oldest championship, a major championship that began as a cozy eight-man tournament at Prestwick. Hopes and dreams will rest on the shoulders of one man.
Sixty-year-old Tom Watson.
Location: The Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland
Par/yardage: 72 / 7,305
Defending champion: Stewart Cink (2-under 278, Turnberry, Scotland)
Purse: $7.3 million ($1.29 million to winner)
If ever there was a sentimental favorite heading into a major, then the links specialist from Kansas City is it. The galleries will be hoping Old Tom can go one better than last year and win his sixth British Open to tie Harry Vardon’s record for most Open victories.
I’m like everyone else strolling around the Auld Grey Toon, across the links upon which just about every great player has trodden. As I soak in the atmosphere of the Home of Golf, my mind conjures up images of a Watson victory. Like so many others, I’m hoping for a fairy tale. That the ghost of Old Tom Morris, a four-time winner of the Open and St. Andrews’ most famous golfer, can somehow carry Watson to victory.
Watson’s been close here before. Even though 1984 winner Seve Ballesteros gave us the most joyful celebration ever staged, it’s hard to forget the pain with which Watson lost. His over-hit 2-iron to the 17th is forever etched in the memory of golf fans.
However, that memory isn’t nearly as painful as last year. In 1984, Watson still had years ahead of him to equal Vardon’s record. He came close in 1989 at Royal Troon, when Mark Calcavecchia won. Watson finished fourth that year.
As the years rolled on, we had resigned ourselves to Watson missing out on a sixth Claret Jug. Then came last year.
Watson captured our imagination as a 59-year-old with a new hip and graying hair taking on the crème de la crème and showing them just why he had won five Opens from 1975 to 1983. A win at Turnberry would have seemed fitting, too. Surely destiny would dictate victory at the scene of his greatest win, when he stared down Jack Nicklaus in the famous 1977 Duel in the Sun.
It seemed too good to be true.
I’d love to know how much productivity dropped amongst golf fans the week after Watson’s heart-breaking playoff loss to Stewart Cink.
Never before has a golf tournament affected me the way Watson’s loss did. After four days, my wife asked my why I was so depressed. It was hard to explain to someone who didn’t follow golf about how Watson’s loss could affect my psyche so much.
She didn’t understand. To be honest, neither did I. My guess is that golf fans had a hard time understanding why Watson’s loss had such a profound impact on their lives.
I stopped being a romantic that day. Here’s what I wrote in the immediate aftermath of that Open:
We will remember Turnberry 2009 as the year history wasn’t made, as the year the fairy tale did not come true, and lasting proof that there is no such thing as golfing gods, or fate: just the grim, harsh reality of life.
If ever there was a major that gave credence to the old adage that golf was never meant to be fair, then this was it.
I still feel that way. I know Old Tom Morris will have nothing to do with whether or not Tom Watson wins this week – or any other golfing god, for that matter. Only Thomas Sturges Watson can determine whether he wins.
If any 60 year-old can do it, then Watson can. That’s what the Auld Grey Toon wants, and that’s the victory that’ll be celebrated most in the pubs in this ancient cathedral town – celebrated the world over, too.
That’s the outcome I want. No player in the field this week would be as fitting a winner as the gentleman who is Tom Watson.
There will be tears if Watson wins. Tears of joy for the greatest Open victory ever.
I hope they’re rolling down my cheeks the evening of July 18.