Many golfers have played successfully into their 40s, and an exceptional few, like Sam Snead, Art Wall, Fred Funk, Craig Stadler, Jim Barnes and John Barnum have won on the regular PGA Tour in their 50s. But Tom Watson nearly won the British Open three years ago at age 59. Technically, he tied for first and lost in a playoff. This week, at age 62, he made the cut in the world’s oldest golf tournament.
It probably helps that Watson won five British Opens. He long ago learned to accept the challenge of the bad bounce or the prickly gorse bush. Had he won number six in 2009, he would have tied Harry Vardon for the most victories in that event. It was not to be then. But this weekend, he still has one more chance to take a run at that elusive sixth trophy.
Friday, after an untimely bogey at the 17th, the result of a missed short putt, he went to plus-4, two shots above the projected cut at the time.
But guess what: He made a long birdie putt at the last hole to get back to plus-3. When he finished and answered questions, he still did not know if he would be in for the weekend or not. But he knew the birdie at the last was important.
“You're always disappointed when you screw up like I did,” he said about his play at the 17. “But in this game you do a lot of that, you really do. So you've got to get over it and say, all right, I've got to make the putt at 18.”
The amazing thing is he misread it.
“It was lucky it went in,” he said. “I didn't hit it where I was aiming, and the putt went in the hole.”
You know that putt was just meant to go in. Outside forces. British Open. Tom Watson.
“It just did a duck‑hook at the end there and went right in the hole. I didn't see that much break at the end,” Watson added.
So, Mickelson’s putts were popping out of holes, and Watson’s inexplicably were rolling in.
Watson admitted he struggled in the second round and that his body let him down a little. His hip was bothering him, and that affects his swing rotation. His driver was working in round one, but it didn’t hold up the second day.
“The unfortunate thing about it is I have to drive the ball a lot more than the kids do here. They're laying up with irons and 3‑woods, and I've got to hit the driver,” he explained about the difference in being 62 and 22 or 32.
His goal was to keep it out of the bunkers, but he wasn’t able to do that as well as he intended. Luckily, he’s good from the bunkers and about every other kind of trouble.
Winds are predicted for the weekend, especially Sunday.
“That changes the game,” Watson said about the forecast. “I assume the wind will probably be coming from the west or southwest or northwest, one of those three directions right there.” If so, it is the same direction as the practice rounds.
While his driver was not working as well in round two as in round one, Watson did find a short game key.
“I made some good swings, especially from the bunker at 17,” he said. “The path of the club was good. So it doesn't take too long sometimes to get back in working order. And I hope ‑‑ I just hope I have the chance to do that on the weekend.”
Watson still feels there are some courses he can play and compete on, although the regular tour courses today, he said, are long for him. The ego issue is the young players are calling him Mr. Watson. He tells them to call him Tom. These days he said that today he takes the same view as Jack Nicklaus on playing golf in his 60s.
“Jack always said he didn't want to be a ceremonial‑type golfer. That's the reason he retired in 2005,” Watson recalled. “He could still play, but the secret is that he misses it. But he understands the capabilities. His body won't let him play like that anymore. And I'm the same way. If my body doesn't allow me to play and play on a competitive level, I won't be there.”
Minutes later, the cut line moved and Watson realized his birdie at the last was the shot he needed. One more time at least, Tom Watson will play the British Open on the weekend.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.