PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. » Most golf fans remember exactly where they were when Tom Watson chipped in from 16 feet for birdie out of some gnarly rough en route to winning the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
For me, I was a 27-year-old at my girlfriend’s house at Lake Buchanan in central Texas, watching on a 19-inch black-and-white TV, complete with rabbit ears wrapped in aluminum foil. It wasn’t a great picture by today’s flat-screen standards, but clear enough to see Watson running around the 17th green holding the club high over his head, wearing a David Letterman gap-toothed smile.
It’s still one of the most iconic images in U.S. Open history, a moment frozen in time for all of us trailing after Watson during yesterday’s second round of the 2010 version of this country’s national championship in golf. Part of the reason everyone came was the realization that at age 60, Watson won’t be playing in too many more majors, particularly at Pebble Beach, the site of his only U.S. Open title.
Watson didn’t disappoint on this 50-degree day on which the sun did not show its head for those teeing it up early at this picturesque seaside golf course. After shooting a shaky 78 in Thursday’s opening round that left him 7 over and in danger of missing the cut, Watson reached down deep in his golf bag to give his fans something special.
The man who began 2010 with a dramatic one-shot victory over Freddie Couples at Hualalai on the Big Island put on quite a show with a second-round 71. Granted, it had a few uncomfortable moments in which shots went left of the green or came up 30 yards short of the intended target, but we are talking about someone who won here 28 years ago. Golf swings slow down with age.
During his interview, it was clear if someone went low and wound up 4 under for the tournament, it would be Watson’s final U.S. Open. Sitting at 7-over 149, the only way he’d make it was by finishing within 10 shots of the lead.
"I may be around for the weekend," Watson said. "It depends on what the rest of the field does. If there’s a 4 under then this is probably going to be my last U.S Open. Couldn’t have happened at a better place, Pebble Beach.
"I’m somewhat sentimental about this place. There’s a lot to this place for me. And it means a great deal to be able to play the U.S. Open, but especially at Pebble Beach. I’m very grateful for the USGA to extend me the invitation to play. They don’t extend those invitations lightly and it was a real joy to receive it. I wish I’d played a little better to deserve it."
NO ONE ON the golf course held it against Watson for not playing his best, particularly the opening round. After Graeme McDowell finished his second 18 holes at 3-under 139 for the tournament, 7 over was the cut line and it remained there for the rest of the day. The only person who had a real chance to keep Watson from playing on the weekend was Phil Mickelson.
He shot a phenomenal 5-under 66 to move into a tie for second at 1-under 141. He had a chance to go even lower and maybe move past McDowell and spoil the chance for Watson to play 36 more holes. But fortunately for Tom Terrific, Mickelson cooled off over the closing nine to afford Watson the opportunity to play on for the adoring masses.
"The crowds were wonderful," Watson said. "They were very appreciative. There was quite a bit of applause and, yeah, come on, Tom, you can still do it, do one for the Baby Boomers, come on. You can do it for the old guys. Come on, you can win this thing."
At this point, that seems unlikely, but getting to play 36 more holes, that’s enough for most of us who remember that day and year when Watson chipped in to beat Jack Nicklaus by two. Being here in person makes it more special still for the thousands who strained the ropes to see Huckleberry Finn do his thing at our national championship one last time.