Watson Fit for another Major


Tom Watson has been living the life of the itinerant golf pro. After playing in the Senior Players Championship two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, the 62-year-old World Golf Hall of Fame member went to West Virginia for the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic.

Watson is the pro emeritus at Greenbrier Resort - where he made the 36-hole cut but stumbled over the weekend with rounds of 71 and 75. On Wednesday, he said that the travel, the high temperatures on the East Coast, a recent farming accident that weakened his right hand and a pinched nerve in his neck have made this latest stretch of competition difficult.

But he's feeling better heading into the U.S. Senior Open, who begins Thursday at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich. "I'm feeling pretty good," he told reporters. "I haven't shown a lot of consistency in the last two weeks, but I'm driving the ball well."

Watson, an eight-time major winner on the PGA Tour who's also accumulated 14 Champions Tour titles - including six majors, will be seeking his first win this week in the U.S. Senior Open.

He will be paired in the first round with another pre-Open favorite Fred Couples. Nick Price was slated to join the two but pulled out Monday due to a "family emergency" and was replaced by amateur Doug Snoap of Florida.

Watson made his way to the podium at Indianwood's media center on the eve of the U.S. Senior Open and had the following Q&A with the media.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. We are so happy to welcome Tom Watson to the media center for the 2012 U.S. Senior Open. Tom has played in 11 Senior Open Championships with seven top-10 finishes and a runner up three times. Olin Browne was in here earlier today, and he was commenting on how the USGA should check into your age qualification. You look so good out there.

TOM WATSON: Yeah, right.

MODERATOR: Can you comment how you're feeling coming into this championship?

TOM WATSON: Well, I'm 62 years old. How do you think I feel?

MODERATOR: Your arm looked pretty good out there.

TOM WATSON: Yeah, right. I'm feeling pretty good. I had an injury I was working out. Lost the strength in my right hand from some overaggressive farm work, you might say. And I pinched a nerve in my neck, which caused the strength in my right hand to diminish quite significantly. It's starting to come back. I think it's mostly back. Everything else is good. I played the last two weeks at Pittsburgh and then Greenbrier last week. It was hot. It's been wearing me out pretty good. This heat drained me pretty good. But I played half decently last week at times played okay in certain stretches of holes at Fox Chapel. Great golf course up there in Pittsburgh, where we played the Senior Players Championship. So I haven't shown a lot of consistency in the last two weeks, but I'm driving the ball well.

And getting right to the point about this golf course, if you don't drive the ball well, you have no chance. Absolutely no chance. None. Zero. The rough is so deep, so penal, and the fairways are pretty narrow. If you don't drive the ball - listen, 70 percent of the fairways, which is really driving the ball well. If you don't drive it 70 percent of the fairways, you're not going to win.

Q. You talked about what you did to hurt your wrist. You said overaggressive farm work. What is it?

TOM WATSON: I like to do a variety of things out there. I was on a Z mower and mowing for about six hours straight. There was quite a bit of uneven ground there. I was in pretty bad shape after I got off the mower. Doc said, you have the same injury that guys running jackhammers have with their necks. You get compression up here of the neck. You're going like this. He said it's a classic nerve issue between C 6 and C 7, compression. Let's give you a shot, give you some traction. Oh, by the way, in about two months, you might get your strength back. He was right. It's mostly back after, this was about ten weeks now.

Q. In Kansas?

TOM WATSON: Yeah, my farm in Kansas. That's where I live.

Q. Hi, Tom. Based upon your playing the course today, two part questions. Any number you have in mind what number you need to win out here this week? And also, how you're going to play No.9 off the tee?

TOM WATSON: Well, No.9, first, because the rough is so penal, it's not a driver hole. I hit a driver down there in the short cut, just short of the green. On a lark, you'd probably hit driver. To try to win the golf tournament, you probably would hit a driver. The first part of your question was?

Q. What kind of number do you think it might take?

TOM WATSON: The number? I'd be surprised if it's more than 3- or 4-under par to win the tournament. I'd be surprised.

Q. Tom, folks in Michigan like to compare this golf course to Scotland, and we all know your record in Scotland.

TOM WATSON: It certainly has the look. It has a lot of the same looks that you have over there.

Q. Is the play similar to that?

TOM WATSON: The fairways are a lot softer. They don't run like the fairways in the sand in Scotland, no. These fairways don't run. So it doesn't play that way. It has the look.

Q. And given your record and success on courses over there, how do you like your chances this week?

TOM WATSON: Well, again, as I said, it has the look of a Links golf course with the fescues, the heavy fescues out there, but the fairways play softly, which is good because they're narrow and the rough is really penal. But my chances are good if I keep driving the ball well and my iron game improves. I'm putting the ball better now than I have in quite a long time, but my iron game is the real sketchy part right now. I'm unsure of it. I'm out on the practice range at times, and I'll get a good streak with the irons, but I'm not very consistent, and it shows up on the golf course. That's the one thing I'm concerned about. But who knows what's going to happen?

Q. Tom, good afternoon. I know you were hurt, and that forced some time off. I'm wondering if that in some ways wasn't a positive from the standpoint of getting away from the game a little bit and doing some other things and getting refreshed in some way?

TOM WATSON: I'm really ready to play. I'm really ready to play in the worst way. Sometimes your body can't go. Right now, at times, I'm wondering if my poor iron play isn't the result of either a lack of conditioning or an injury or just a bad swing. That throws some doubt in your mind. Any time you have any doubt in your mind, this game can eat you up. It can turn you upside down. That doubt is not what you want in your mind. You have that positive.

We play this game on a thin edge a lot of times, where it's between that being confident and not being confident. There's a thin edge there. And whenever you let that doubt in there, it takes you below that edge, and then that concern right there causes some bad swings. You need that edge. You need to be right over the top of that edge or just over the top of it. Sometimes you're playing well enough that you're way over the top of the edge. But when you go through those bad spells, you're under that edge. That's when you have to rely on parts of your game. Like when I said a kid, I'd hit the ball sideways. I'd rely on, well, the only way I can score, I'd better make putts and chip the eyes out of the hole, which I did.

Q. A follow up to that. Tom, you've come into this championship for several years after having gone to Great Britain for a British Open and a British Seniors. I'm wondering if there's kind of excitement that you're not on some kind of -

TOM WATSON: Time change.

Q. Yeah, some sleep deprived time schedule.

TOM WATSON: My sleep schedule is better now. I played nine holes on Monday, 18 yesterday, and nine holes today. The main thing right now is to stay strong out there. I don't think we're going to have the heat this week we had the last couple of weeks. That drained me, especially in the final round last week. I was drained. I'm not making excuses. I'm just telling you the fact. At 62 in 105 degrees, it does drain you when you're out there. My game suffered because of it. Hope this week that my strength remains good and my driving remains good, but it sure makes life easier when you drive the ball on these fairways. Getting right back to my first point.

Q. First of all, thanks for taking my question. I was just watching the Golf Channel the other day, and they had the '09 British Open on. And I was sitting here thinking about your career and how long and vast your career has been. Do you ever sit back and look at what you accomplished from day one to still competing at a British Open two, three years ago?

TOM WATSON: I'd forgotten most of that stuff. No, I really don't. I really don't. When you bring it up, I talk about it, but I don't sit back and think about things. My friends, they're people who want to bring up the 2009 British Open and the '77 British Open at Turnberry or the fact that we're going back again this year for the Senior British Open at Turnberry again. The fact that I won the Senior British Open in Turnberry in 2003. So Turnberry has been a very good place for me. I don't mind talking about those memories. I had one really heartbreaking experience there, but I've had a couple of really exciting and pleasurable experiences there as well. That's the way that golf the way I look at life and golf, that's the way it is. It's not going to be all good. It's not going to be all bad. You think it's going to be one way or the other, then you're wrong.

Q. You've done so much in your career. This championship isn't one you've won.

TOM WATSON: I've come close. Come close a couple times.

Q. What would it mean to you to finish it off and be first?

TOM WATSON: It would mean a great deal because this event is a very special event to me. When I was a youngster, growing up with my dad, the U.S. Open was the tournament for him. If you won the U.S. Open, you were Player of the Year in my dad's book. As a hero, Sam Snead won the U.S. Open. He always made mention of that fact. Snead was a great player, but he never won the U.S. Open. As a result, as a kid, reading history of Francis Ouimet's 1913 U.S. Open when he beat Ted Ray and Harry Vardon. I started out early thinking the U.S. Open is the tournament to win.

When you're playacting as a kid, this putt is to win the U.S. Open. Fortunately, I did. I did win the U.S. Open in 1982 at Pebble Beach. It was kind of a dream that came true. And I played in the U.S. Amateur prior to that. Prior to turning pro, I played in four U.S. Amateurs. I played well enough to play in the Master's and get an invitation to the Master's in 1969 for the '70 Master's. The conditions are always the toughest at the U.S. Open or the U.S. Amateur.

Like I said this week, the rough is penal. We don't play courses like this. This is the only course we play all year that the rough is this bad. Or let's not call it bad. It's just penal. That's the way it should be. That's what you expect in the USGA Championship. You'd better drive the ball straight, you better do everything well. If you win, you've accomplished something extraordinary, and that's the way I've always looked at the USGA championship.

Q. Tom, can you reminisce about your summers as a kid growing up in Northern Michigan, spending time out there, and a few thoughts about golf in the state of Michigan, up north especially.

TOM WATSON: It's like Kid Rock, you know. Just exactly. I'm not exactly smoking those funny things. There was a lot of growing up up in Northern Michigan, up in Walloon Lake near Petoskey that I did with my family and friends. In fact, I'm going out with a friend that I made up there tomorrow night for dinner. He lives in this neighborhood. But Walloon Lake was a great place. It had a nine hole golf course, and we were members there. My brother, my older brother and I, we'd go around and around and around with all the other kids around there and played a lot of golf there.

We also played - Eddie Kelbel is the pro there. He unfortunately died just recently. He was a wonderful man. He took us around to a number of other tournaments around there as kids, and we had a great time. Spent a lot of time playing over at Belvedere, where they held the Michigan State Amateur for so many years. Dan Pohl won at Belvedere as an amateur. But growing up, fishing in the lakes, going to square dances over there and almost killed myself one night running down the hill. Just lots of great memories growing up there.

Q. Tom, while we're going down memory lane, I know you lost a good friend last year in Bud Williams. What did he mean to you?

TOM WATSON: Well, Bud was a very close personal friend. He was a man who he he loved the game with a passion, unlike many people I've ever met who played the game. His desire to improve any time was always there. You never saw him give up. He was always in there. He loved helping people play a better game of golf. Boy, he loved life. He loved to play cards, loved Nebraska football. He was always game to do something. We went hunting, duck hunting quite a bit. We rode horses together. He wasn't afraid to do anything. Every time I'd drive in to Wolf Creek, a golf course where he was an honorary member there, I'd go in there and look for his car still.

Q. Quick follow up. You've been to Omaha Country Club, at least driving around. What's your thoughts on that course for next year?

TOM WATSON: That course, you have to play some elevated shots. A lot of elevation for your approach shots. It's going to take - it's going to take some height for both shots. Get the ball in the air. The high ball hitters have an advantage.

Q. Tom, I recall you saying that Turnberry three years ago that you had an advantage because you knew the golf course so well and you knew where to hit it, and some of the others in the field of didn't have that same sort of knowledge. Will you have that same advantage at the Senior British this year against the guys?

TOM WATSON: There will be more players who have played at Turnberry this year. Quality players that played. Langer, people like him. I did have an advantage from the standpoint of knowing the golf course and how it was going to play in 2009, playing against the kids. None of those kids had ever played Turnberry before. First time for them. And the wind changed, and I knew it was going to change. We had the south winds in the practice rounds, and I knew on Friday it was going to change to the northwest. Completely different golf course. And I said, God, if I could get off to a good start on that first day with no wind, I could stay in there on par, I can win this tournament. That was my thought process. My past experiences helped me there. They certainly did.

As they always do. I mean, look at this course. How many golf pros and how many of the pros and amateurs have played this golf course we're playing this week? Never played it before Monday, maybe even Sunday. I bet you just a handful. Not too many have played it. What happens if the wind starts blowing from it's supposed to blow from the east, east/northeast, east/southeast, east, and then from the south for the next four days. We haven't played with a south wind. We played with a northeast wind in the practice rounds every day. And now we're going to have a south wind. Now how is it playing?

That's the beauty of the game is the guesswork and the wind. When you play the wind, can you get the right weight on your shot, can you hit it the right distance. And you know where to hit it with these fairways. A lot of these fairways go different directions. You've got to know how much you can bite off. You're playing into the wind one day, you can go down here. But going downwind, if I hit it right there, I hit it through the fairway. How much do I go right now to get it and keep it in the fairway?

Q. We've got a couple of local guys that are playing, they're not professionals, but they're amateurs playing this weekend. What advice would you give to some of the guys that have been playing with the younger guns in tournaments and around now coming up and playing with some guy who aren't their age in this setting?

TOM WATSON: You mean the old guys? You're really not playing the guys. You're playing the course. The only advice I can give anybody playing this course is the very first piece of advice I started off with. You've got to drive the ball on the fairway. If you don't, you're going to the Detroit Airport on Friday night.

Q. Couldn't let you go without asking you about what Tom Lehman said yesterday.

TOM WATSON: I haven't played the course since they added the distance. I know the holes where they've added it. They play long.

Q. The forecast is also for rain. Does that make it easier, harder?

TOM WATSON: It's going to make it harder for me. It's going to make it too long. If the 2nd hole is 494, the 3rd hole is 492, and the 7th hole is 612, 11th hole is 600. Different golf course. When Tom won in '96, it was really running. He shot good scores. There was very little wind. It was really running, but he still had to avoid the bunkers. 206 bunkers there. They've add the some bunkers to it. You don't want to be in those bunkers. It's like the ball being down there right at the base of this thing here, and you're trying to go over this sign here. That's how those bunkers are over there. If you hit it up right there, you go sideways. You're going over here, if you have a swing. Sometimes you don't even have a swing. That's why they call them hazards.

MODERATOR: Tom, we appreciate your passion for the game still. So great to have you here in this championship.

TOM WATSON: Thank you.

MODERATOR: We wish you nothing but the best this week.

TOM WATSON: Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.


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