Why I Root For the Tom Watson's and Not the John Daly's

Mark HauserCorrespondent IIJuly 19, 2009

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND - JULY 19:  Tom Watson of USA hits a pitch shot on the final payoff hole with Stewart Cink following the final round of the 138th Open Championship on the Ailsa Course, Turnberry Golf Club on July 19, 2009 in Turnberry, Scotland.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

In sports, we usually root for the somewhat unusual:  the prodigy, the comeback player, the underachiever, the hard luck story, the super dedicated, the flashy/exciting/smooth athlete, the greatest of all time, the big underdog, and of course, the old guy. 

Mainstream stars, of course, get our attention. But, we don’t root for them much as we would if they also fall into one of the above categories. 

In golf this week, we got the old guy, Tom Watson, as Tiger Woods, who falls into several of the above categories, surprisingly failed to make the cut.

Before the British Open started, it would be hard to imagine so much interest in the final round without Tiger being in contention, but the 59 year-old Tom Watson changed all that. 

I am not much of a golf fan or golfer (I am much better at Disc (Frisbee) golf), however, Watson got my attention this weekend.  If an aging and underachieving John Daly were leading after three rounds this would not have excited me as much. 

Admittedly, numerous Daly fans would have tuned in to see their undisciplined hero try to return to glory.

The difference between the two is that Watson has not won a major in 26 years (his putting was also was a factor) because of his age; while Daly has not won a major in 14 years mainly because of his bad habits (now it is mainly because of his age, but he was only 29 when he won the British Open in 1995). 

Many of us would have loved to be one of the lucky ones to be talented enough to be a professional athlete.  Daly is one of the lucky ones, but somewhere deep down; he does not appreciate his talent. 

This bothers me (and possibly you) because we think if you are going to waste that talent, give it us and we will put it to good use.  His fans can relate to his underachieving squandering of talent; I can’t.

As knowledge in weights, training techniques, diet, and sports psychology increases, so too does the capabilities of athletes as they fight the inevitable aging process. 

Most athletes are at their peak between the ages of 25-29, hence, anytime we witness greatness by an athlete past his or her early 30’s we get excited.  (For simplicity’s sake, I am leaving out steroid use and younger age exceptions in certain sports.)  Obviously in golf, since it is not a running, speed oriented type of sport; the athlete’s peak years can be a little older. 

Watson, for example, was at his best between the ages of 27 and 35. 

But, playing great for four rounds at age 59 was unheard before this weekend.  And I am much more impressed with someone squeezing the last drippings of talent out their aging body than I am with someone throwing it away. 

Athletes like Watson makes us rethink what humans are capable of as we fight the aging process.  Young or old that is something we can all get behind. 

Now if I can just take about 30 strokes off my handicap in the next 60 days, I can possibly join the party on the Senior Tour when I turn 50.