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Major Tom: Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson on his near-miss at Turnberry, his relationship with Tiger, and Barack Obama's golf habit

Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus
Jacqueline Duvoisin/SI
Jack was the best strategist the game has ever seen, says Watson, but Barbara "kept everybody down to earth."

What do you think of when you hear the name "Jack Nicklaus"?

Actually, I think of Barbara [Nicklaus's wife of 54 years]. Getting to know Barbara and her practical-joking behavior. I just love that about her. She keeps the egos in check in that family, which is wonderful. She keeps everybody down to earth. She has plastic ants she'll put in your glass of water. She'll carry ants for good luck, or do impish things. She's wonderful.

What do you love most about Jack?

He plays the game with the same passion he had as a kid. I understand what it was like to be a kid and play with that passion. Jack was the same way. We played a lot of competitive rounds that were serious. And we played a lot of practice rounds that were not that serious. I said to him once, "Jack, you don't play in any real money games, do you?" He said, "No, I'm trying to beat these guys Thursday to Sunday. Why do I need to beat them in practice rounds for money?" I think Jack was the best strategist I've ever played with. He was the best at hitting the proper shot at the proper time. I've learned a lot from him.

When and where are you happiest today?

At home, on my [Bucyrus, Kansas] farm with my family.

Do you ever wish life was less complicated and you could spend more time there?

I'm very happy with my life. I am what I am. I don't worry about anything that I can't control. That's a really good lesson in life.

David Feherty has spoken movingly about how you were the one who convinced him to get help dealing with alcholism—that you saved his life.

He saved his own life.

How did it feel to hear him say that?

It felt great. It felt great that somebody could make a life-changing decision based on something you might have an influence with.

You've admitted to your own struggles. What's the hardest part about quitting drinking?

I'm not going to go into that.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

I hope that I've been able to treat people with the respect they've shown me. That's basically the tenet you try to live by. I haven't been successful at it all my life, but that's what I strive for.

What book is currently on your nightstand?

Killing Jesus, by Bill O'Reilly. I'm learning about the way religion is portrayed in society.

What makes you frustrated or angry?

The state of our country, how much we're in debt. How much Obamacare has failed in its beginning stages, and the government not fessing up to say it made a mistake. We still print money to keep things going. We live in a bubble economic world. Our real estate is still in dire straits. No one wants to talk about that. We don't want to talk about the cost of the changes in government that have been brought upon by the present administration.

If you had five minutes with President Obama, what would you talk about?

Golf.

Really? You clearly have strong political opinions, but you'd stick to talking golf?

I'd try to give him a lesson to make him a better golfer. I'm really happy that our president plays golf. It's great. Some pundits bad-mouth him for playing so much—I love that he plays golf. I love it. And, well, that's probably the only thing we have in common.

 

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