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Ancient History Tom Watson marked a new start at the age of 48 by becoming the oldest winner of the Colonial

June 01, 1998
June 01, 1998

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June 1, 1998

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Ancient History Tom Watson marked a new start at the age of 48 by becoming the oldest winner of the Colonial

This is the year the classics came back: John Elway won a Super
Bowl; Jack Nicklaus made a Sunday charge at the Masters; Larry
Bird, coaching the Indiana Pacers, is trying to stop Michael
Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and Tom Watson did his best Ben
Hogan impersonation.

This is an article from the June 1, 1998 issue

In 1967, when he was 54--an age that was considered Jurassic in
the dark days before the Senior tour--Hogan tied for third in
the Colonial National Invitation behind a young hotshot named
Dave Stockton, who was winning for the first time on Tour. Last
week, 31 years later, the 48-year-old Watson sprung a surprise
of his own. Looking as if he had just stepped out of his exhibit
at the new World Golf Hall of Fame, which he had visited on his
way to Fort Worth, Watson outran a pack of younger pursuers to
unexpectedly win the MasterCard Colonial.

The victory was one to savor. There won't be many more, history
tells us. "Winning at my age is a rarity," says Watson, who
ended a nine-year drought on Tour two years ago this week, at
the Memorial. "I didn't know if I would win another tournament
on this Tour. I'm seriously thinking about the Senior tour."

The timing of Watson's rejuvenation couldn't be better. This
week he's skipping the Memorial so he can attend the high school
graduation of his daughter, Meg. His next start will be in the
U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, in San Francisco, where he
finished runner-up to Scott Simpson in 1987. In July the British
Open returns to Royal Birkdale, where Watson won in 1983. In
August, on the day after the final round of the PGA, Watson will
return to Poppy Hills to finish the El Nino-delayed AT&T Pebble
Beach National Pro-Am, in which he shares the lead with 18 holes
to play. Considering that Watson has already won $832,385 in
1998--the most he has earned in a season in his 28-year pro
career--this classic comeback still has plenty of growth
potential.

The difference in Watson's play this year has been his putting.
He ranked 20th on the Tour on the greens before Colonial, and
last week tied for second behind Jim Gallagher Jr. Watson's
putting woes date back to the mid-'80s. "I basically stopped
winning in '84," he says. "Over the last six or seven years, I
felt my swing was good enough to win. I just needed to get my
short putting back to where it was."

For most of the '90s, Watson was the poster boy for the yips,
golf's ugliest condition. "You saw it. I knew it," he says. "You
can't lie about it." He was bombarded with hundreds of putters
and tips from fans, but it wasn't until early this year, when he
focused on completing his follow-through, that he began to see
improvement.

There has been talk that Watson's improved stroke is tied to a
decision last fall to quit drinking. It's not a subject that
Watson, who has always carefully guarded his private life, will
discuss. Nor is he interested in talking about the breakup of
his marriage last year, a divorce that is likely to cost him
millions. Still, you can see how an aging superstar could be
motivated and energized by all the tumult.

Five of Watson's 39 victories came in the British Open, and
Colonial's hard-baked fairways were positively Scottish, even if
the greens, watered to offset the steamy heat, were soft enough
to hold a well-struck shot. Thirty-three players averaged more
than 300 yards per drive. Even Justin Leonard, not known for his
big stick, uncorked a drive that measured 372 yards. (Asked to
explain, he feigned offense. "What do you mean, what happened?"
he said.) Watson reached the 599-yard 11th in two last Friday,
hitting a three-wood approach that rolled to the back of the
green, a distance of about 290 yards. "I felt like Tiger Woods,"
he said.

Watson's short game was typically solid, and at times
exceptional. On Saturday he saved par from greenside bunkers on
three straight holes, the ball lipping out on two of the shots.
When he sank a birdie putt from the fringe on the next hole and
finished the front nine with only 10 putts, he figured this
might be his week.

Watson began the final round tied with Harrison Frazar, a
boyhood chum of Leonard's, and the gritty Jim Furyk. Watson took
the lead at the feared 3rd hole, a 476-yard par-4 that bends to
the left, sinking a 12-footer for birdie while Furyk missed a
two-foot par putt.

At the 6th, Watson ran in a 20-foot par-saving putt and couldn't
stop smiling as he left the green. Then at the par-4 9th his
drive found the edge of a fairway bunker. He was forced to stand
outside the bunker and swipe at a ball a foot below his feet. He
had 132 yards, into a gusting wind, over a pond to a front-right
pin. Pass the instruction video, please. Watson put his ball 10
feet from the hole, made the putt, then finished with a 66 and a
15-under-par 265, two better than Furyk. "The whole tournament
boiled down to that shot," said Watson, who ranked the stroke
among his most memorable, along with the chip-in at 17 to win
the '82 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the 213-yard two-iron into
the wind at the 72nd hole at Birkdale in '83 and the 60-foot
putt from off the 15th green at Turnberry that helped him beat
Jack Nicklaus in their famous duel at the '77 British Open.

While Sunday was Watson's day, the first three rounds belonged
to the 26-year-old Frazar, a round-faced rookie who had tied for
second the week before at the GTE Byron Nelson Classic. Never
heard of him? That's understandable. His high school team in
suburban Dallas won two state titles, but the big shot was
teammate Trip Kuehne. At Texas, Frazar was a three-time
All-America but again was overshadowed, this time by Leonard,
with whom he roomed during their freshman year. "I beat him in
practice rounds, but he beat me in almost every tournament,"
says Frazar, who was 12 when he first played with Leonard.

As roommates, Frazar and Leonard were called the Odd Couple. The
neat, well-organized Leonard was Felix to Frazar's Oscar. "He
only got mad at me a couple of times, like when I had stuff
hanging off the lamps," Frazar says. "We were different."

While Leonard focused solely on golf, Frazar enjoyed going to
football games and hunting and fishing on the weekends. "Golf
wasn't my thing; I wasn't obsessed with it," he says. "Don't get
me wrong, I tried to do well for my coach and teammates. After a
while, though, I lost interest in golf. I needed to get away."

After college Frazar got a job as a financial analyst in a
Dallas realty office, then worked for a company owned by Mark
Brooks, the Texas alum, Colonial member and '96 PGA champion.
Frazar wore a suit and tie to the office, crunched numbers and
played golf once a month. "Taking that year off was probably the
best thing I could've done," Frazar says. "It made me realize
how much I missed the game."

At the end of '96 Frazar entered Q school and earned a spot on
the Nike tour. He finished 13th on its '97 money list to
graduate to the big Tour, on which he made his debut at Pebble
Beach. "I go to eat breakfast on Thursday and Kevin Costner is
standing in front of me in line," Frazar says. "I grab my plate
and bump into Bill Murray, who gives me a fake punch to the
stomach. As I'm walking out, I almost run over Jack Lemmon.
After I hit some balls, I get in the van to drive to the 1st tee
when we hear, 'Hold on, hold on,' and Jack Nicklaus climbs in.
In the matter of an hour--bang!--I've completely forgotten that
I'm there to play golf."

Frazar was more focused at Colonial, shooting 64 on the first
day. He's a long hitter with a tempo-based swing, putts well and
has a lot of patience. That last attribute was sorely tested on
Sunday as his swing quickened, and he gamely scrambled for pars,
settling for a 71 and a fourth-place finish, five strokes behind
Watson. "He has the game to compete like this week in and week
out," says Randy Smith, his coach. Frazar has won $355,114 this
season, and the $297,067 he has taken home over the last two
weeks jumped him from 144th to 38th on the money list. "In two
weeks I've gone from someone nobody ever heard of to somebody
people were pulling for," he said. "That's special."

So, too, was Watson's victory. He had finished third here twice
and fourth four times. Now his name will go on the Wall of
Champions adjacent to the 1st tee, joining the likes of Hogan (a
five-time winner), Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Lee
Trevino. "It's a great honor to have won here in the year of
Hogan's passing," Watson said. "With all the great players who
have won here, it's like the Masters."

Except the Colonial champion doesn't receive a green jacket, he
gets a red plaid one. Watson wore it over his bright blue shirt
to the winner's press conference. "I don't care what it looks
like," he said, smiling a young man's smile. "I'm just glad to
have it on."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK HAVING A BLAST Watson, who recently made major changes in his personal life, has already won more money than in any previous season. [Tom Watson golfing out of bunker]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK BACK IN THE SADDLE A year away from golf had Frazar leaning toward a pro career. [Harrison Frazar watching golf ball on green]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK STROKE OF GENIUS Watson felt that this shot on the 9th hole on Sunday was one of his best ever. [Tom Watson golfing out of bunker]

GOLDEN OLDIES

Tom Watson was 48 years, eight months and 20 days old on Sunday,
when he won the Colonial, making him the eighth-oldest player to
win a Tour event. Below are the seven who were older, listed by
age. (The oldest winner of a major championship is Julius
Boros, who was four months and 18 days past his 48th birthday
when he won the '68 PGA.)

EVENT AGE

Sam Snead '65 Greensboro 52
Art Wall '75 Milwaukee 51
Jim Barnes '37 Long Island 51
John Barnum '62 Cajun Classic 51
Ray Floyd '92 Doral 49
Sam Snead '61 T of C 48
Hale Irwin '94 Heritage 48
Tom Watson '98 Colonial 48

"[Frazar] has the game to compete like this week in and week
out," says Smith.