Tom Watson commands attention

There was not a spare seat at Tom Watson's press conference at the Australian Open today, the 63 year old, one of the elder statesmen of the modern game, commanding the attention of the Australian golfing media as he covered many of the issues facing Golf.

Watson was facing a bit of an issue himself, the eight time major champion struggling with the effect of a cold and battling to be heard over the planes landing on the nearby east west strip of Kingsford Smith airport and the adjacent Southern Cross Drive.

Watson gave his thoughts on the current state of his own game and his delight at being back to play the Australian Open before branching out on wider aspects of the game.

When Watson speaks people listen. He is an engaging, endearing golfer and individual and his opinions are respected and importantly he does not shy away from the more controversial issues facing the game.

"I have always been a big fan of the Australian Open in particular because Gary Player won it so many times and Jack Nicklaus won it so many times. It is great to be back and be able to play in the tournament again.

"I played last week in South Africa but I did not play very well. On the last day I hit the ball like I knew how, although I did not score very well. I'm coming in here feeling pretty good about my golf game.

"The problem is my 63-year-old body has a cold and little jet lag. I've seen the whole golf course on the virtual tour on the web site. I can't wait to get out there. I hope to play well. I can't say I expect to play well but I hope to play well."

Watson was asked about his simplistic approach to the game and a conversation he had on that subject with Greg Chalmers.

"I think I might have talked about not complicating it. When I was a kid I tried to complicate the golf swing and tear it apart. Every little thing had to be perfect and if it wasn't perfect, you were chasing your tail.

"Harvey Penick's book has a passage that is really true. I did not live by that when I was growing up on the Tour. The passage was, if you played badly today, don't worry about it; if you play badly tomorrow, starting thinking about it; if you play badly on the third day, you've gotta change something.

Pros now say if something is not perfect, they have to change something. The game goes in cycles. You can get yourself in the best physical condition. But like Trevino said one time when he had a five-shot lead at Houston. It was history. Lee Trevino with a five-shot lead is going to win but he shoots 77 in the last round and loses by four or something like that. I saw him the next week and asked him what the hell happened. He said: "Tom, I woke up on the Sunday morning and my hands were shaking. I knew I was toast."

"You can be in perfect physical condition and your nerves all of a sudden go haywire on you. Other times, it does not bother you that much. Keep it simple. Golf is a game of feel. Mechanics was what I practised when I was a kid but it is really a game of feel. You've got to know where that clubhead is."

Inevitably, given his exposure to the Champions Tour where long putters are so much a part of the scene, Watson was asked about the recent decision by the ruling bodies of the game to place a ban on the hinging or anchoring of the putter during a stroke.

"I agree. I say that with mixed emotions. This (demonstrates) is not a stroke of golf but it makes it easier to play. My son Michael with a conventional putting stroke could not make it from two feet half the time. He went to a belly putter and he makes everything. The game is fun to him. There lies the danger. To take away the ability of people to have fun because it is not a stroke of golf? I firmly believe it is not.

"Do we go to two sets of rules, so people can use it in certain competitions and the PGA Tour can't? I don't know. There is a dilemma. I thought Ernie Els said it perfectly when he won last year's Open Championship. He was asked why he went to the long putter and he said he was cheating like the rest of them.

"So I have mixed emotions about it.

"They (The R&A and the USGA) won't make a decision until February. I think they will make the decision and do what they said they were going to do.

Another subject very much debated in the game is the inclusion of golf in the Olympics.

"I don't want to pour cold water on it but I don't think it should be in the Olympic Games. We have our most important championships. I still think of Olympics as track and field and not golf, to be honest with you...I probably had a pie in the sky way of looking at the Olympics as being clean and pure. This year the East German ladies record in the medley relay was broken which stood since 1985. Why? Lance Armstrong. What a great disappointment. It makes you doubt. I don't like to doubt. I like to trust people and trust they are doing things for the right reasons. When the professionals go to the Olympics, they go for the wrong reasons...I'm probably talking like a dinosaur.

"When I came out it was just the four majors. The Ryder Cup was nothing until the Europeans became involved. Now you've got the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup has increased its importance exponentially.

"You have the World Golf Championships. You have golf in the Olympics. You have diluted the importance, in a sense, of the four major championships. Is that good? It is good for the players. It gives them a chance to play for a lot more money in a lot more important tournaments but it does not help the smaller tournaments. I get back to that. The smaller players are not serviced like they used to be."

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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