Tom Watson stole some time from his Masters preparations to attend a cocktail party for his new book, "The Timeless Swing" (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster), Tuesday at the Rhinelander Mansion, the newly renovated Ralph Lauren flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York. (Watson wears Polo golf clothes on tour.)
While debonair waiters distributed champagne in bubbling flutes and dots of caviar on teeny-weeny blinis, Watson held forth on the profound importance of ... divots.
"It's something that is not mentioned a whole lot," Watson said, relaxing on a sofa in one of the store's clubby, wood-paneled rooms. "I mean, the divot itself, where it occurs in your stance. When you make a swing hitting off grass, you have to catch the ball first. Your divot should start at the center of your stance and go forward." In the book he refers to Ben Hogan's divots, which he said were as a clean and symmetrical as a dollar bill.
Golf instruction books tend to lead off with the grip. This one begins with the importance of finding the "bottom of the arc," the point in your swing arc where the clubhead hits ground. Watson then stresses hitting the ball just before this point (with every club except the driver), to produce a semblance of that magical Hogan-like, dollar-bill divot. He returns to this ball-striking key again and again, like a leitmotif, throughout the book.
"The Timeless Swing" is a title that has specific credibility when associated with Watson, who narrowly missed capturing the British Open for the sixth time in 2009, at age 59. He also led the first round of the 2003 U.S. Open at 53. Last year at the Masters, Watson posted an opening round 67, one shot off the lead (he eventually finished 18th).
"I also start off the book with the spine angle," Watson continued. "If you keep it straight and consistent you're not going to mishit much." For example, he said, it practically eliminates the incidence of head bobbing. "Recently, even a guy like Tiger, you see the head bobbing up and down," Watson said. "He wasn't doing that when he won all those majors."
Written with Nick Seitz and with an introduction by Jack Nicklaus, "The Timeless Swing" has sections on everything from swing basics to shotmaking to developing a good, rhythmical "waggle" (he says your final swing thought should be "a rhythm thought"). For the technically savvy, there are small icons, or Microsoft Tags, interspersed throughout the text, which you can aim your smartphone camera at, to take you to a video of the author giving a lesson. As you might expect from Watson, a serious, modern instructional book.
While signing armloads of them, at $30 a pop, Watson, a two-time Masters winner, was of course thinking about Augusta. His book tour definitely takes time away from his preparation, he said, but that's not such a bad thing. "I don't practice nearly as much as I used to," he said. "Before, I used to just hit balls." In the book he stresses the idea of not practicing aimlessly, without purpose. "One secret of Jack Nicklaus's greatness," he writes, "is that he never hit a careless practice shot. Never."
His expectations for this year's Masters Tournament are not overly grand.
"I know my iron game has to be spot-on to succeed at Augusta." Watson said. "I don't hit too many short irons there. My mindset is to play as well as I possibly can. That goes with my understanding that the course is at the outer limits of my capability right now, because of the length."