What Tom Watson did at the British Open (The Open) last Sunday – over the course of four often blustery days – was indeed unfathomable.
It's the only word I can think of to describe leading The Open for a good duration, and up until his final putt in regulation play.
It was indeed the greatest feat I have seen since being a fan of professional and tournament golf in 1982.
Better than Tiger Woods winning the US Open at Pebble beach by fifteen strokes.
Better than Jack Nicklaus at age 46 winning The Masters in 1986.
It was a man of a great magnitude of humble legendary class, stepping up and performing at a level that no one ever believed he could maintain over the course of four days of grueling conditions amongst the field of truly the best in the game.
No one – not a single sole – thought Tom Watson could win The Open.
And he missed it by a single stroke – a stroke of bad luck at that – causing his ball to roll only a few feet further down the slope of the back of Turnberry's 18th hole. An extra rotation on the ball that made his recovery a magnitude more difficult.
With a final putt of some ten or twelve feet left to win the match – it was clear – as he pushed it just right – that the chance to win The Open Championship was just one rotation of a golf ball out the grasp of the fifty-nine year old Tom Watson.
He bogeyed. His score dropped to two under par.
It was destiny missed by a single roll of a golf ball.
The playoff that ensued – due to a long putt for birdie by Stuart Cink for birdie on eighteen – taking Cink to two under par - was doomed from the start for Mr. Watson, his heart already crushed by the missed opportunity. Mr. Watson lead the applause for Stuart Cink upon dropping the tournament winning putt.
The play off was no contest, as the eighteen holes and the stress of recapturing and holding a lead in one of the most prestigious tournaments in professional golf, was clearly taxing enough.
Harry Vardon won a major tournament in 1914 at the age of fifty nine. But 1914 did not have the same level of players (or players with modern equipment) that 2009 has. And Mr. Vardon's major won at the age of fifty nine was not the Open Championship – which was a good deal more prestigious than the US Open of that same era.
The oldest player ever to have won The Open Championship was indeed a man known as "Old Tom". Tom Morris Sr. won The Open Championship at the ripe old age of forty six. The same age as the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, won The Masters Championship at Augusta National in 1986.
Old Tom Morris was a native of St. Andrews, Scotland. He is deemed to be the second golf professional in the history of the game, making his living from not only tournament golf, but also as a golf ball and golf club maker, course designer, and greens-keeper.
Old Tom is responsible for standardizing the golf course to being eighteen holes in length. And that both the front and the back nine's should play back to the clubhouse. Old Tom determined that bunker or hazard should always have a playable route around it. He standardized the golf course – equal in perfection to only the specifications of a baseball diamond – so that the golf course is how we play it today.
All through the playing of the 2009 Open Championship – Tom Watson was commonly being referred to as Old Tom – one of the most beloved figures of the sport. One of the most respectable figures – founders of the game we know and love today.
And the nickname is well deserved for Mr. Watson, who plays the game with a level of integrity second to none.
Not second to Mr. Palmer.
Not second to Mr. Nicklaus.
Not second to Mr. Hogan, Mr. Snead, or Mr. Jones.
Okay, He is second to Bobby Jones.
Because Bobby (Robert Trent) Jones - founder of Augusta National Golf Course and The Masters golf tournament – did indeed exact a sense of integrity and honor in golf – never turning professional in his career – maintaining amateur status throughout his grand slam achievements.
And second also to Old Tom Morris Sr.
Both Jones and Old Tom enshrined in St. Andrews to be of the highest stature of the Royal and Ancient Golf Association – paralleled to saints in the Catholic Church.
And Old Tom Watson – in my humble opinion – deserves the same honor. Not only for his monumental wins on such famed courses such as Turnberry in an epic match against his old friend and foe Jack Nicklaus, but also for what he showed us over four days in July in 2009, on the same Turnberry course.
Those four days should live forever in the tombs of the greatest feat a golfer ever accomplished. And the Royal and Ancient should accommodate the same grandeur to Old Tom Watson as they did for Old Tom Morris Sr. and the Wee Bobby Jones.