TOM WATSON is proud to include himself among the golden oldies capable of challenging for titles but insists actually winning one is a different matter.
The British Open at Turnberry 12 months ago saw Watson, at the age of 59, move to within one putt of becoming the oldest man to clinch a major by an astonishing 11 years.
A year earlier Greg Norman finished third at Royal Birkdale after the Australian, then 53, had entered the final round with a two-shot lead.
Watson, speaking in promotion of his ‘Lessons of a Lifetime’ DVD, is encouraged by such performances but is wary of making bold predictions on behalf of the game’s elder statesmen.
“We’re seeing more of the older guys competing for titles – for example myself at Turnberry and Greg Norman at Birkdale,” he said. “I’m very glad that I’m part of that trend but there’s a big difference between challenging and winning. Very few people have won over the age of 50.”
Watson admits the course remains the decisive factor in whether he can defy sporting logic by adding a sixth Open title to his collection of eight majors.
The 60-year-old’s knowledge of Turnberry was crucial to finishing runner-up 12 months ago after bogeying the last hole and losing a play-off to champion Stewart Cink.
St Andrews hosts the Open next week and the setting for Watson’s second place finish to Seve Ballesteros in 1984 is also to his liking.
“I didn’t surprise myself last year, I felt I had the ability to compete against who I call ‘the kids’ on certain courses,” he said.
“Last year was my sixth Championship at Turnberry, but for most of the kids that was their first there.
“The experience of playing a golf course under all types of wind conditions is an advantage.
“I still have the ability to hit the ball squarely and pretty far and do the right things to beat people.
“On other courses I can’t hit the ball far or high enough to do it. I have to pick and choose my venues and Turnberry is one of them.”
Harry Vardon is the only man to win the British Open six times and Watson will have a better idea next week of whether he can match his achievement.
“Ask me on Wednesday if I can hit that record. Right now I’m unsure about my putting, as I was last year,” he said.
“I’ll figure something out that will work for me for just a few days.”
Watson insists he has come to terms with the agonising climax at Turnberry thanks to the response of the public.
Needing only to sink a nine-foot putt from the back of the green for victory, he pushed it wide and then fell away in the ensuing play-off with Cink.
“I have no regrets. People say I should have chipped the ball from the back of the green rather than putt it, and maybe so,” he said.
“But all the advice I got would have been moot if I’d made the putt, and it was a lousy putt.
“The way I like to reflect on it is to see how people reacted. People have told me: ‘Tom, thanks for giving me the will to start doing the things I thought I never could do again because of age’.
“I get a lot of letters like that from all walks of life. People have said to me: ‘I’d given up on myself, I’d given up doing things because of perceived age limitations. But if you can do it, I can do it. You’ve given me the will to restart my life in a lot of different ways’.
“For me, messages like those were the most gratifying thing that came out of what happened last year.”
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