You probably didn't know that the runner up from the British Open, golf's oldest championship, doesn't automatically qualify for the U.S. Open. The U.S. Amateur runner up is in, but not the Open's?
In this era of world ranking qualifications and exemptions, that seems kind of odd. It seems odder still, then, that Tom Watson isn't in this year's U.S. Open.
Watson was golf's story of the year, and his heartbreaking near-miss at Turnberry will not soon be forgotten. The Royal & Ancient changed its Open qualifications in a nod to the 60-year-old Watson, saying that any past champion who finishes among the top 10 earns a five-year exemption.
It'll be a surprise, therefore, if the United States Golf Association doesn't succumb to public sentiment and award Watson a special exemption to this year's Open. It's at Pebble Beach, a course that's in a class with Turnberry, a track a wily 60-year-old can still be competitive on.
Adam Schupak reported an excellent piece for Golf Week on a Jan. 25 meeting of the USGA Member Program at Pebble Beach that had more than 200 attendees, which included Watson and Johnny Miller. A video was played with highlights from Watson's 1982 U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach. When he holed the famous chip shot at the 17th green, the crowd gathered in the room roared. Before the noise finally faded, Watson shouted, "Lucky!" More laughter followed.
Schupak joined the growing Watson lobby–it's true, Watson has already been give four Open exemptions, the last in 2003, but he did have a top-10 finish in Dubai a few weeks ago–with his piece, but the best part of his story was reporting the meeting's entertaining exchanges:
Watson's mood was buoyant. After all, he had just outdueled Fred
Couples the night before to win the Champions Tour season debut in
Hawaii. Soon Watson and Johnny Miller participated in a question-and-answer
session with the audience. Hands shot up. The first question was posed:
"Hey, Johnny, why don't you ask Tom the question you told us this
morning you're too afraid to ask him?
During an earlier session before Watson's arrival, Miller had been
asked what he thought was going through Watson's mind at Turnberry on
the final holes of last summer's British Open. "I told them I wasn't there," Miller said. "So tell me, what was going on?"
If you expected him to sputter through some kind of sugarcoated
answer, you'd be wrong. Watson recounted his entire week in detail to a
spellbound audience–how he thought he had home-field advantage from
playing so many tournaments at Turnberry, to the way the sun set on
Wednesday evening and how spiritual it seemed. Round by round, shot by
shot, how much the loss stung and how he made peace with defeat, his
thoughts and memories poured out with gusto.
Watson can be shy and circumspect and guarded with those whom he
doesn't know well. Yet on this occasion, words seemingly reserved for a
select few were shared with a room of 200 strangers.
When he arrived at his approach shot to the 72nd hole, Watson said
he still thought he picked the right club. He hit his 8-iron shot
flush. Andy North, commentating for ABC, stood by the green and told
Watson afterward how his ball just happened to land on a little knob in
front of the green. A foot longer or shorter would've made all the
difference in the world, he explained. He would've had two putts for
Then Miller broke in. With a hint of skepticism, he wondered, "What
about the next shot? You're the best chipper in the world. Why didn't
"Well, I was trying to win the tournament, and I figured your worst
putt is still better than your best chip. That's what I was trying to
do," Watson declared. He continued that if he had another chance, he
With a devilish smile and a comic's timing, Miller said, "You know, it's not like you needed another jug!"
"Trust me," Watson replied, after pushing out a faint laugh. "It would've been nice. It would've been nice."