SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Everyone wants to know Tom Watson’s secret to playing superior golf at 60.
Here it is: competition.
“That’s all it takes,” Watson says.
Maybe those questioners should quit asking and pay attention. Watson, well past the PGA Tour’s cut line, has continued to hang with the game’s much younger stars at the biggest events.
Watson lost a chance at his sixth British Open title last July, falling in a playoff to 36-year-old Stewart Cink. Earlier this month, Watson opened the Masters with a 5-under 67, one off the lead held by his Champions Tour colleague, Fred Couples.
Watson chalks up the strong play to the fields he and Couples face each week in the 50-and-over set.
“That’s what I’ve said about the reason I’m still out there and have done well in some of the kids’ major championships,” Watson said. “I still have the ability, the opportunity to compete.”
He and Couples, 50, both plan to continue testing themselves against the game’s best players.
Watson, a seven-time major champion, accepted an exemption into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, site of his stirring win over Jack Nicklaus in 1982, when he famously chipped in from the rough at No. 17 to take the victory.
It is Watson’s first U.S. Open since 2003 – and another chance to surprise those who think the 50-and-over set should settle into weekend games at the club.
Couples, like Watson taking part in the Legends of Golf, sure doesn’t think so. He’s playing on the PGA Tour the next two weeks at the Quail Hollow Championship and The Players Championship.
Couples stayed in the Masters mix halfway through Sunday’s final round and eventually finished tied for sixth at Augusta National.
“I think if I am swinging good,” Couples said, “there’s a lot of places I can still do well.”
For Couples, his stops on the PGA Tour mean he’ll play seven straight events – something he hadn’t done since 1992, when he won the Masters.
“I want to see if I can play with the younger guys,” Couples said. “But not that much.”
Couples has enjoyed the camaraderie and more laid-back nature he’s found so far on the Champions Tour, something that’s long appealed to golf stars turning 50 who want to keep their careers going.
“It’s less pressure,” said Tom Kite, who won the 1992 U.S. Open. “That’s what the Champions Tour is.”
Couples has also given his new tour a boost with his hot start, including three victories and a second place in five individual Champions Tour events. He may show up at a few more PGA Tour stops this season.
“But next year will be strictly on the Champions Tour,” Couples said.
If he’s anything like Watson, that will keep Couples’ game sharp as ever. He’s averaged close to 300 yards off the tee this week and, along with partner Jay Haas, gone 6-under on Savannah Harbor Golf Resort’s par 5s.
“That’s basically it,” Couples said simply. “Drove it very well, kept it in play and then birdied a lot of par 5s and made a lot of nice par putts.”
Watson discovered a perfect swing for him late in his career, past when he won his major championships and most of his 39 PGA Tour titles. Once he found it, Watson found the power and consistency to keep close enough to the latest generation of mad bombers.
“I tell a lot of the younger guys, if this guy (Watson) would have hit the ball in his late 20s and early 30s like he has in his 50s, he’d have won 20 tournaments a year,” said Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open champion and current ESPN golf analyst.
Watson shrugs off the words of his Legends partner – the two teamed to win this event in 2008 – and points to an attitude he’s tried to carry throughout his career.
Is anything better than “to be able to play a game for a living and make some money at it?” he said.
Few have been better at it than Watson, who entered the year having earned more than $22 million in his career.
As long as they’ve got a place to stay crisp, Watson thinks it’s not such a surprise when former PGA Tour stars shoot in the 60s beyond their 60s
“That’s kind of why I guess I’m here,” he said.