An interview with Tom Watson - one of golf's greats
I was fortunate enough to get to know Tom Watson during the latter part of the 80’s and early 90’s when Tom gave clinics for Ram Golf, whose equipment he was playing at that time, and with whom I had a joint venture for distribution in Europe. These clinics took place usually on the Tuesday of The Open, and were very popular. A number of golf professionals used to attend as well as the general public, which only went to prove that however good or proficient you thought you were, there was always something new to learn.
Tom’s method and his explanation of what he was doing always seemed so simple, so it was a surprise to hear him say in his excellent teaching DVD just released 'Lessons of a Lifetime' that although he had considered making an instructional video at that time, he had decided not to as “he didn’t know his game well enough”! This from a golfer who had won five Open Championships, a US Open and two Masters titles along with a string of PGA events, played in the Ryder Cup four times and captained the US Team in 1994...
I had the privilege of a one to one interview with Tom just a week before the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews. It shows, I believe, why he is such a respected figure in the world of golf. - Stuart Barber, Publisher of Golf Today
Stuart Barber: I received your DVD “Lessons of a Lifetime” yesterday and you explain everything so well and simply, but before talking about your golf game we enjoyed and admired so much, I have two questions. First about last year’s Open. It would have been fantastic for you to have won six Opens - but does the memory still live on with you? Secondly, how long did Bruce Edwards, who you describe as a true friend and to whom you dedicate the video, caddy for you?
Tom Watson: Well thank you, and it was 30 years and he was a great friend until he died. To have won last year would have been a great story but it wasn’t to be. And as my great friend Bruce would tell me after a double bogey – “Just get on with the game” or in this case life – I really don’t dwell on what might have been.
SB: You mention in the DVD that you had thought of making a video in the late 80’s, when you were doing the clinics with us, but you decided against this as you didn’t know your game well enough. Do you really mean that?
TW: Yes I do – I address it in the DVD – I changed my golf swing in 1994 when it became more consistent than it had ever been. I haven’t really changed the way I play the game, except for a change in my downswing in 1994 which made swinging the club a whole lot easier for me.
SB: But to me your swing looks as pure and simple now as it did then, so it wasn’t a fundamental change like Nick Faldo’s?
TW: Yes, it was fundamental to me – it’s quite small and relates to the plane of the shoulders being the same in the downswing, as in the backswing . It made a dramatic difference to my game and I describe it pretty fully in the DVD. It made swinging the club a whole lot easier for me. Leading up to 1994 I was getting very frustrated and angry with my game –I tried everything but it was like hitting my head against a brick wall. Then I thought why not try a new downswing movement – it’s really not that much but I call that my secret and as I just said it’s keeping the shoulders on the same plane on the downswing as on the backswing. I feature this in my DVD – Lessons of a Lifetime, and explain it.
SB: Now that you are approaching 61 are you as supple as you were?
TW: I’m not as strong as I was – suppleness I don’t know – I come from good genes Stuart – my parents were in good nick you might say well into their later years.
SB: And you started golf at the age of 6?
TW: Correct and my Dad was my first tutor – the grip – how to swing the club - how to hook and how to slice – so I had a pretty good basic understanding of the game’s fundamentals - how to curve and shape the shot you wanted to play and just how to play the course.
SB: I remember you saying you lost your temper on one occasion and threw a club into a tree - and your Dad said "You threw it there, you get it down!"
TW: Correct and it broke the grip – no, the shaft and it cost $10 to repair and that was a heck of a lot of money in those days - and my Dad made me pay for it. So try not to lose your temper on the golf course. The only person it hurts is you.
SB: A lot of amateurs, me included, often walk straight to the 1st tee and think we’ll hit our best drive ever – I assume you would never do that, and would always spend time on the practice ground.
TW: Well not always, but I always do about 5 stretching exercises -I do this religiously, that’s essential to get your body ready – essential is essential no matter what your age. Hamstring, hip flexes, upper back, and pelvic muscles – Those are musts to get your body ready.
SB: When you go to the practice ground how do you start your warm up routine
TW: I go straight to a 3 iron – why would I choose such a difficult club –well there’s method to my madness – I want to get the feel of a full swing so I swing nice and easy, and if I’m fortunate enough to hit a good shot –right off the bat - it puts you in a good frame of mind. Because it’s such a difficult club to hit, even if you don’t hit it right it’s no big deal.
SB: Where do you go after that?
TW: I move to a pitching wedge and then through the full range of clubs and finish off with a Sand Wedge.
SB: Now you are older and as you say don’t hit the ball so far do you have to think more where you want to place the ball.
TW: No, it’s the same as it’s always been – the golf course is like a jigsaw puzzle –you have to fit the pieces together and always play the course to the best of your ability. Don’t try the heroic shot often. In my career when I’ve tried it, it tends to lead to disaster. There’s a time and place for it. Medal play not often, but matchplay is different –yes there you can play that kind of shot, often very succesfully.
SB: So you would think your way round the golf course?
TW: Yes, and that’s why you play your practice rounds so you can be the best prepared you can be to play your best – get to know the golf course so you can give your best and to know the course the best you can – That’s why Jack Nicklaus was such a great player he was always the best prepared of any player I know. He was the first to take yardages and would often go to the course 2 or 3 weeks before a tournament. He would then play several practice rounds before the tournament, so he knew the course better than other players. He would have it clearly fixed in his mind how best to play the course.
SB: Even more than you?
SB: Now a touchy subject – when you were playing in the late 80’s and early 90’s if there was a weak part of your game it was your putting - yet now, when we see you playing, the putting seems much more positive – would that be a fair comment.
TW: No, it’s still the same - the short putt is still an adventure – the long ones are pretty positive but the short one’s, no – I don’t seem able to take the putter straight back and straight through.
SB: But you don’t have the yips like Peter Alliss had.
TW: No I’ve never had the yips – just something in my head that stops the putter blade doing what it’s supposed to do -it’s some kind of block that just stops the club doing what it’s supposed to do. I’ve now made an address change that I’ll be trying at St Andrews. Standing slightly more open at the address position, that helps stop the club going back on the inside. Watch and see what happens next week, I’m pretty excited about that.
SB: Thank you so much Tom it was great talking with you. We all wish you the very best for next week, and I shall see you next year at Sandwich
TW: Stuart, well thank you. To sum up I call my DVD “Lessons of a lifetime” because when I turned Pro I took advice from all those around. The best advice from them was - watch those you see and learn from them. Everyone either by watching and learning or by directly asking them. Players like Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, your Tony Jacklin and of course Byron Nelson, who I talked to a great deal. But maybe most of all from my Father. I learnt from them all by watching and talking directly to them. From those early days I have built up my knowledge of how to play the game and this is what I explain in my DVD. How much does a ball break when putting in a strong cross wind – how to hook and slice the ball and play from all different lies –uphill, downhill. Standing with the ball above or below your feet. Get those things licked and you’ve got your golf game. All those things I teach you in the DVD. It's been a pleasure talking with you Stuart and I shall look forward to seeing you next year.