We missed you last week. While you were off at Hilton Head,
playing against the kids, we were out here in Arizona, near
Carefree, playing the Tradition. It's one of our Senior majors,
you know. But of course you do: You lost in a six-hole playoff to
Tom Kite here last year.
You're free to play anywhere you like. That's what's great about
this country. But my feeling is that the Senior tour needs you
playing in our majors to make them major. Maybe you heard what I
said in the press tent after my opening round (a little 66). I
said, "Tom Watson is off in Hilton Head this week because he
thinks he can still beat those guys. He didn't consider this a
major. I don't mean to knock Tom, but I think it is. We need
majors out here. We need something to point to."
I know you won at Hilton Head twice. I know it's a short trip
from Augusta to Hilton Head, probably nostalgic for you. I won
once at Hilton Head, too. I'd like to go back. But I've come to
realize something: The people on this tour--the guys we're playing
with, the spectators--these are my people. Maybe that's hard for
you to accept. Playing out here, it's not about nostalgia. It's
about accepting reality.
You know what the guys out here talk about out on the range?
Baseball, Tom. Like, "Who's starting for the Bosox tonight?" We
are your people, Tom. We speak your language. Any of those kids
know who George Brett is anyhow?
Hey, I got a question: They still got all those good-looking
girls hanging out at the Hilton Head lighthouse on the Friday
night of the tournament? Remember what that scene was like, back
in the '70s? Kind of gets my blood going, just thinking about it.
I'm joking. I'm a grandfather now. (Your daughter is, what, in
her junior year of college?) Friday night here, I was at our
The best night was Tuesday, when they had the dinner for major
winners, Senior and regular. You've been going to dinners like
that for years, of course, at Augusta. But it was a new thing for
me, one of the fringe benefits of winning the Senior PGA last
year, my first major. They gave me a special blue blazer. I said
to my wife, "I'm in the club now." It was neat, sitting with
Tommy Aaron and Bob Goalby and Don January and Gene Littler,
hearing the old war stories. The wives had a dinner, too.
The Tradition, the Senior PGA, the U.S. Senior Open, the Senior
Players--those are our big four. (You have enough game to win all
four, but you have to win your first one first.) They were
officially designated as majors by some Senior tour committee
more than a decade ago, long before you or I turned 50. Now maybe
you feel no committee can officially anoint a tournament a major.
I know you must think that designating majors is a pretty
contrived thing. I hear you on that.
Still, this is the hand we were dealt and all we can do is make
the best of it. I know how much you admire Mickey Wright. I'm
sure you know she played all sorts of LPGA events she didn't feel
like playing, to support her tour when it was finding its legs.
Well, our legs are a little wobbly now. We need you, Tom.
Nicklaus was here. (He designed the course.) Arnold wasn't. Lanny
was here. Trevino wasn't. Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Larry
Nelson, Gary Player, they were all here. How many majors did
those guys win? You would've had to beat more than your Doug
Tewells and your Mike McCulloughs to win the thing, you know.
Jack is something. I heard he played horribly coming in on
Friday, then went to the range with Jim Flick and they really got
in the dirt, worked up a big old sweat. It was great for the
fans, because they're standing like 10 feet from those two, the
best player in the history of the game and his teacher, and
they're hearing every little intimate thing they're saying. At
one point Jack--and you know the voice--gets his club face in a
position he really likes, and he says to Flick, "Now that reminds
me of a golfer I used to know." Guy is what, 61? No quit in the
man. He was three under on the weekend. I'm sure you can relate.
I've heard about some of those marathon sessions you had over the
winter in Florida.
I've been working with Flick for a year and some, and he has
really helped, especially with my putting. He said I was putting
too much with the shoulders, told me I was too rigid, not relaxed
enough through my forearms. You know, I could always hit the ball
pretty straight. People used to say to me, "The way you hit the
ball, you should be able to win a U.S. Open." But my putting game
wasn't there. Now I've made nearly $2 million in the last 15
months. It's all about putting. I don't need to tell you that.
Man, this week I felt like you, 1980 version. Didn't have a
three-putt. Gosh, I darn near made everything I looked at. Shot
67 on Friday and 70 on Saturday, so after three rounds I'm
leading at 13 under, two ahead of McCullough and Nelson. I
shanked a bunker shot on 18 on Saturday, and all night I'm
wondering if that's going to rattle me come Sunday. Carefree,
I don't watch much golf on TV, but I watched Tiger win the
Masters and was really impressed by his intensity, the way he is
so committed to every shot he plays. I thought about that for the
last round. Even thought about wearing a red shirt.
So we went out on Sunday, McCullough, Nelson and me. Pretty good
gallery, considering the fans have to ride a bus for more than 20
miles from the parking areas to the course. Curtis and Judy
Rankin and Mike Tirico--the gang from ABC--were there. It felt like
a pretty big deal, at least to me. It felt like a major.
I won't bore you with all the details, but I made a birdie on
number 1 and never looked back. I went out in 33. Came home in
29. Little 62. I know what you're thinking. The course was not
easy. Yes, I shot 23 under. But McCullough was next, at 14. Now I
have two Senior majors.
You going to try to qualify for the U.S. Open? I like Southern
Hills and I'm from Oklahoma so I think I'll try. I understand
your hankering. You want to see how your golf measures up
against the best players in the game, not a bunch of 50-plus
windbags. I just don't think the week of one of our majors is
the week to do it.
Hey, how'd you make out at Hilton Head? I looked for your name in
the agate type in the Saturday paper, but didn't see it. That cut
business is brutal, in my opinion. I'm guessing you love it.