TOWN AND COUNTRY, Mo. — Tom Watson has already won the Senior PGA Championship twice. Even more impressive, he won those two major titles 10 years apart.
Golf’s senior circuit measures time in dog years. It’s accepted that most senior tourists are confined to a five-year window of truly being competitive, between the ages of 50 and 55. There are exceptions, of course. Hale Irwin has won 45 times and is still playing good golf at 67.
Watson is another. Winning the Senior PGA in 2001 and ’11 is a longevity record that may never be broken. (He shares that mark with Jock Hutchison, who won in 1937 and 1947). Unless Watson breaks it himself. Which he may do. On Friday, the 63-year-old Watson put together a solid round of even-par 71, a round that was far more encouraging than his opening-round 69.
On Thursday, Old Tom played like Young Tom. It was a nice example of Watson Golf, as it used to be called, when that Young Watson kid used to get up and down from a ball-washer for par on a regular basis. Watson was in nine bunkers on Thursday, but he scraped it around and stitched together a good score.
“Sometimes, you just have to have a day like yesterday to say you can still do it when you’re playing cruddy,” Watson said, grinning. “And use other tools in your tool box, like your putter, to make it happen. That’s the way I used to do it — hit it all over the lot and shoot two under par.”
On Friday, Watson didn’t miss any of Bellerive Country Club’s lush fairways, which is a key to survival on this track. The greens are big, but if an approach shot ends up in the wrong quadrant of the putting surface, chances for a bogey are good.
Old Tom played like the Old Tom we’re using to seeing in recent years. His swing still has that wonderful tempo, the ball still makes that crisp click at impact. His is a swing to savor, even at 63. His score didn’t reflect his fine play because of a few mistakes.
The second-round errors involved hitting two balls into the water. One of them was a good shot, a seven-iron at the 3rd hole. He misjudged the wind, the ball found the hazard and he made double-bogey. The other was a poor shot. He hit driver off the fairway while trying to reach the par-5 8th green, as he’d done successfully at the par-5 4th.
“I hit a foot behind the ball with the driver,” Watson said with a chuckle. “It was an awful shot.”
That miscue led to a bogey. He also had a pair of three-putts.
“It could have been a decent round if I didn’t make those lousy shots,” Watson said, “but that’s the game.”
Despite posting a higher score, Watson walked off the course on Friday more encouraged about his game going into the weekend. The man is still in contention. First round co-leader Duffy Waldorf shot 72 and finished 36 holes at four over par. Watson was only two off Waldorf’s early clubhouse lead, and the Watson name is still one that opponents tread around lightly when they see it on the leader board.
Bellerive is a ballstriker’s course, and Watson, at his best, is a consummate ballstriker. He’s also got some local knowledge. This is his part of the country, sort of. He’s from Kansas City, this is St. Louis and the cities are only the width of Missouri apart even if they’re rival baseball towns.
“Umpire Don Denkinger was our friend in the 1985 World Series when the Kansas City Royals played against the St. Louis Cardinals,” Watson said. “I still ask people here in St. Louis, ‘Do you remember Don Denkinger?’ And they get angry at me. Yes, they do, they remember Don and that call in the sixth game that allowed us to win that game and then go on and win Game 7.”
Watson is a big baseball fan, especially of his beloved Royals, and he’s already got tickets to games Monday and Tuesday when they host their favorite enemy. “The Royals continue to lose one-run games,” Watson said. “We’re terrible. We’ll see if we can get off the schneid.”
As he walked past the clubhouse toward the scoring area after his round, Watson bumped into former Cardinals great Ozzie Smith, and the two chatted for a minute. They were paired in Wednesday’s pro-am, and their paths have crossed before. “He’s a nice man,” Watson said of Smith, a Hall of Famer. “He does a lot of things for kids and charity here.”
Asked if he could reprise Smith’s signature move at shortstop, a back flip, Watson laughed heartily.
“Yeah. I tried that one time in the sand when I was younger and was an athlete in those days,” he said, chuckling, “and I didn’t quite make it.”
He’ll be back for the weekend at Bellerive with an eye on the leaderboard. He’s Tom Watson. He can most definitely make that.