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Turnberry was all Tom's
Turnberry was magnificent, Tiger imperfect, Tom Watson simply incredible as he set about his week's work, so nearly writing perhaps the most remarkable chapter in golfing history. And we thought 1977 was good!

Golf International January/February 2010 issue

So Michael Schumacher, at the ripe old age of 40, is making a return to Formula 1 and - predict the experts - is likely to dish out a driving lesson to the younger upstarts on the grid. Big deal! We'd need to see Stirling Moss out there in his hat and gloves to match the drama at Turnberry. Opening his account with the drumroll of a flawless 65 on Thursday, 59-year-old Tom Watson produced a performance that will be talked about for centuries to come. That he was able to keep the dream alive right to the death made not only for the most compelling golfing theatre I have ever been privileged to witness but will go down as one of the remarkable sporting achievements of all time. With a display of links artistry and shot-making that only comes naturally to a player of his pedigree, the five times Open champion proved as conclusively as perhaps it ever will be that golf, as a discipline, is in fact much more than the sum of its parts. True links golf, at any rate.

Entertainment just doesn't come any better than this. And, at a time when the game is struggling to attract numbers, and golf clubs up and down the country search for creative ways in which to boost their appeal (and revenues), surely the answer was there right before our eyes: the unique capacity this great game has to bridge and bond generations will never be any better demonstrated than it was over the opening two days of this championship, as Watson went cheerily on his way in the company of the ridiculously talented 16-year-old Amateur Champion, Matteo Manassero.

The sorcerer and his apprentice: Tom Watson's magic may not have quite lasted all weekend at Turnberry, but you can be sure a lot of it rubbed off on 16-year-old Matteo Manassero

Having earned his place in the field with his historic victory at Formby in June (he is the youngest ever winner of the Amateur), the Italian could barely contain his delight at playing alongside the man who so famously out-duelled Jack Nicklaus upon this stretch of coastline in 1977 (fully two lifetimes ago, as far as the Italian is concerned). In the space of 36 holes the two became friends, shared and embraced the glorious challenge of a pristine Ailsa Course and willed each other to produce their best golf. And, come Friday afternoon, it was the younger man who stood aside to applaud the grand master onto the 18th green. It was a moment that encapsulated the best of golf. A game without rival for the humble beginner, superstar teenager, evergreen senior. Surely golf clubs have that marketing message?

While acknowledging Stewart Cink's professionalism and the gracious manner in which he spoke in the aftermath of the playoff, this will always be remembered as Watson's championship. For the quality of his play and the sheer guts he displayed in regaining the lead, he earned the right to have his name bracketed alongside Harry Vardon as a six-time Open Champion. Throughout the week he talked often about feeling spiritually at peace with himself and the golf course, and, as the shadows lengthened on that Sunday afternoon there were moments when many of us wanted to believe that a higher power was up there choreographing the show. A testing six-footer to save par at 16 was following by a textbook birdie at 17 - just as he had managed to break the deadlock with Nicklaus on that long hot afternoon in '77. He nailed the tough tee-shot at the last, too, leaving himself the perfect angle to the green. Please God, it was his.

Thirty-two years previously a trademark 6-iron off the sun-scorched turf - and to much the same pin position - saw Watson's ball pitch on the front edge of the green before hopping and checking to finish dead to the hole. Going in this time with an 8, he couldn't have made a better swing or hit a prettier shot. Only this time - inexplicably - the ball didn't want to stop.

The best of times, the worst of times. That's golf, I suppose. Although we all know it was much, much more than that.

August 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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