Tom Watson has confirmed that he will make a sentimental journey to where it all began when he returns to Carnoustie, the scene of his first Open Championship victory, next month in search of a fourth Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex.
It was back in 1975 that Watson rolled up at the famous Scottish links course, only to discover that he could not play a practice round on the Sunday because the course was closed due to the Qualifying Competitions being held that day.
Watson then played the first round of links golf in his life at nearby Monifieth, but showed he was a quick learner by going on to capture the first of five Open Championships at the initial attempt, beating Australian Jack Newton in an 18-hole play-off.
So began a love affair with the Home of Golf which has entered a fifth decade, and Watson cannot wait to take a trip down memory lane from July 21-24, when he attempts to add to the Senior Open titles he won in 2003, 2005 and 2007 – all of them in Scotland.
The 65 year old is relishing the chance to make another sentimental journey to the jewel in the crown of the county of Angus, which also hosted the Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex in 2010, when Bernhard Langer won his first Senior Major. Yet, initially, Watson admits he detested the style of golf which was to define his career.
He recalled: “I have vivid memories of that first visit to Britain. I remember flying into Edinburgh with John Mahaffey and Hubert Green and our wives and driving to Carnoustie. I was excited and wanted to play, but Keith Mackenzie, then secretary of The R&A, told us the course was closed to us, whether we were exempt or not.
“He was very apologetic and offered to fix us up with a game at Monifieth, so that was my first look at the famous links turf. It was hard as a rock that year and really fiery. I hit my first shot on a links course straight down the middle and somehow lost my ball. I dropped another and kept walking – then found my first one 50 yards to the left.
“I have to tell you I didn’t like it one bit! I wasn’t happy with blind shots and unlucky bounces which could derail your round. However, I managed to put it behind me, even though I didn’t care for this type of golf. I was just fortunate that I was playing well and there was little wind that year. That Open was a steep learning curve for me.”
Carnoustie has a reputation as the hardest course on The Open rotation, and Watson is not inclined to disagree. He added: “The course has the toughest three-hole finish of any Open venue. Your game needs to be really solid to perform well there.”
Watson may not be the prolific winner of old, but he admitted: “I still love to compete. That’s the buzz. I felt I played pretty well in my last Masters at Augusta, shooting 74 and 78, and I hope to be in good shape when I get across to Scotland.
“I love teeing it up in Scotland. It’s something else. To play in front of galleries who know how difficult the links game can be is a pleasure. My love for the game is shared by the people who gave birth to the game in Scotland. To me, being somewhat of a golf historian, it’s a pleasure to play in front of people who love and understand the game.
“It’s always a pleasure to play with someone who understands how to play the links – and the Scottish fans certainly understand how it’s played. You might only be faced with a 100-yard approach to the green, but they know the difficulty and they appreciate a shot that finds the green because they’ve played links golf and they know it’s tough. You get the proper response because they have a trained eye to links golf.”
Watson will be joined at Carnoustie by a glittering cast of around 30 fellow Major Champions, including Bernhard Langer, who won the first of his two Senior Open titles at Carnoustie six years ago. Also playing are Mark O’Meara, Tom Lehman and a host of European legends such as Colin Montgomerie and Miguel Angel Jiménez, plus newcomers John Daly, Todd Hamilton and Jean Van de Velde.
Watson welcomed Daly, the 1995 Open Champion, into the fold in his rookie season and said: “It’s wonderful to see new names arrive each year. That’s the great thing about Senior golf – the blend of the old and the new.”
Advance discounted tickets for the 2016 Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex are available until the end of June, priced just £70 for a season and £25 for a day ticket. To purchase, visit: http://senioropenchampionship.com/ or www.tickets.europeantour.com. Alternatively, call +44 (0)1344 850550.