128th Open Championship
128th Open Championship
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Second best not so bad for Brian Watts

They say that nobody remembers who finishes second. But somebody does - the person themselves.

Many would change "second" for "sickened" because of what winning would have meant.

But for some second is pretty good - life-changing, in fact.

Brian Watts falls into that category. Being a runner-up at Royal Birkdale last year brought him back to his wife and year-old son.

Failure to make it on the American tour had led Watts to switch his attentions to Japan and while he made a great successive of it - 12 victories, including five in 1994 alone - it took him away from home for months at a time.

But then came the Open. Leader by one after two rounds and by two after three the 33-year-old was caught by Mark O'Meara on the closing day and then beaten in the four-hole play-off.

Disappointed obviously that the chance to win a major title had gone, Watts was soon able to reflect on the massive positives.

The £188,000 cheque counted towards the American tour money list and without all the aggravation and heartache of the qualifying school he had earned his card for this season and could move back permanently to Oklahoma.

"It's now five or six hours to wherever we need to go," he says. "It beats the heck out of that 23 hours it used to take door-to-door from Japan."

Not that he has closed the curtain on the Land of the Rising Sun.

"I don't have to go back, but I will. I am always going to be grateful to that place because that is where I have become a good professional player.

"All the learning I did there over six years is why I was able to play well in the British Open.

"I was over there for 20 to 24 weeks a year. I've got a lot of Japanese friends and I'm going to miss them. But hopefully I'll be able to hook up with them again when I go."

Of all the 280 shots Watts played at Birkdale one stands out in the memory.

Needing a par four at the last to tie with O'Meara his second finished in a horrible lie in the bunker, but despite his awkward stance he got to the ball to run down to less than two feet. Even O'Meara, sitting by the green, applauded.

"I never dreamt that so many people would ask me about that bunker shot, even though I knew it was a great shot," he states.

"To get the ball that close from that lie was by far my greatest shot ever under pressure.

"No championship or tournament I have played in around the world has come close to matching that feeling."

Most of the attention afterwards, of course, was on O'Meara, having added the Open to the Masters crown he had donned three months earlier, and on 17-year-old Justin Rose.

But Watts was not totally forgotten. "I got loads of letters from fans and one from Gary Player. I really appreciated it all.

"The contents of Gary's letter is personal, but it says a lot about the guy. Very classy. I'd only spoken to him a couple of times, so I was kind of surprised."

Watts - an American citizen, but born in Canada of an English father and German mother - is now looking forward to Carnoustie next week.

"I've never been, so don't really know what to expect. Probably a real tough course.

"There is something about the wind in Britain that is a lot stronger. I don't quite know what it is. You have a 30mph right-to-left wind in Oklahoma and you have to compensate a lot less than with a British Open."

But having coped so well in a gale at Birkdale, he does not mind one little bit if it blows again.

 


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