Tom Watson on links golf and his tussle at Turnberry with Nicklaus
The 1977 Open at Turnberry always brings back warm memories. The Open was at stake against the best player in the world [Jack Nicklaus], and for the last 15 or 16 holes it was just a two-man race. It was quite a weekend, wasn't it?
On Sunday, Jack jumped ahead by three shots through 4. I evened the match at No. 8. He jumped ahead by two at 12 and I evened the match again at 15. That [60-foot] putt from off the green at 15 turned the tide my way. On the 16th tee, I turned to Jack and said, "This is what it's all about, isn't it?" And Jack turned to me and said, "You bet it is." At 18, you just knew Jack was going to hole his putt [from 35 feet]. He's Jack. He did that sort of thing all the time. I had to make that short putt to win, and the crowd was still going crazy when I was standing over my putt.
At the time I didn't think about how special this championship would become in sport. I was trying so hard to make the combination of shots I needed to get me to the 18th hole where I hit that 7-iron from 178 yards [to two feet]. It was only after the contest, when you talk to the writers, that what we had achieved began to sink in.
I wanted to be the best player in the world and make history. I remember saying that in 1974 after I won my first tournament. I was taken aside by my dad and he said, "You really shouldn't say that publicly." And I thought, Well, why not? That's what I'm thinking about trying to do. There's nothing wrong with saying that.
My first experience of links golf was at Monifieth in Scotland. I almost lost my ball off the first tee [laughs]. I drove down the middle of the fairway and I couldn't find it. My playing partners carried on while I took one last guess, and there it was, buried in a tiny pot bunker. I had to take a really awkward stance to get at it. And I didn't really like that, having hit what I thought was a perfect drive.
Even though I won the Open in 1975 and 1977, I still didn't like the way the game had to be played on links courses because I was so conditioned to play the ball high in the air. Links was the antithesis of how I played. I started to realize I had a love for links golf in 1979 when I made the decision to stop fighting it and play the ball along the ground and not get upset when the bounces didn't turn out the way I wanted. I think it goes back to my childhood when I had to play the ball along the ground because I couldn't get it up in the air and I couldn't hit it far enough so I had to bounce the ball onto the greens [laughs].
American golf is so predictable it sometimes becomes boring. Everybody plays the same shot the same way. Whereas links golf is so unpredictable. That's its beauty.
Turnberry is one of the most beautiful spots to play links golf, with Ailsa Craig out there in the sea and the white hotel on top of the hill with the little par-3 beneath, and the way the course hangs on the edge of the cliffs by the lighthouse. It's one of my favorite places in golf.