Historians will tell you that there are two defining moments in Tom Watson's World Golf Hall of Fame career.
The first is "the shot,'' a near-impossible pitch struck from a thicket of gnarly rough to the left of the green on the par-3 17th hole during the final round of the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Watson somehow willed that devilish shot into the cup for a mind-bending, Bear's-back-breaking birdie on a hole that appeared to have bogey written all over it. He followed that feat of pure magic with a climatic birdie on the 72nd to defeat Jack Nicklaus by two shots for his only U.S. Open title.
The second "moment'' came over the exhilarating course of the final 36 holes in the 1977 British Open at Turnberry in Scotland. Watson absorbed Nicklaus' best shots in an unforgettable display of near flawless Saturday-Sunday golf and was still standing at the end despite rounds of 65-66 by the Golden Bear, with whom he was paired each day. Watson went Nicklaus one better, hitting a glorious 7-iron to 2 feet for a birdie on the 72nd hole that capped a pair of matching 65s to win "The Duel in the Sun'' by a shot, one of five British Open titles Watson earned among his eight major championships.
Watson's peers might add another paragraph or two to those two moments because so many of them had potential tournament victories ripped from their grasps by what became known as the "Watson par'' throughout the 1970s and early '80s when Watson won the majority of his 39 PGA TOUR titles. Watson often would launch wild tee shots into faraway places with strange looking grass. He'd hack his second onto the fairway, hit the green with his third and then hole miraculous putts from another zip code to save par. He did it over and over, putting his steely resolve on display again and again.
Watson, born and raised in the Midwest with conservative values, often was chided for his austere, flinty-eyed demeanor on the golf course. He once was described by noted course designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. as "all serious, never kidding around, Tom plays like he's in a cathedral.''
In many ways, the game of golf is Watson's cathedral. He holds the game's traditions dear and its rules and etiquette scared, and he has conducted himself in the most professional of manners. That's the reason Watson, in 2003, became the sixth man to earn the PGA TOUR's Payne Stewart Award, following in a legendary line behind Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus (2000), Ben Crenshaw (2001) and Nick Price (2002).
The award, named for Stewart, an 11-time winner on the PGA TOUR, was created by the PGA TOUR Policy Board to perpetuate Stewart's memory following his death in an airplane accident as he traveled to the 1999 TOUR Championship. It is presented annually to a player sharing Stewart's respect for the traditions of the game, his commitment to uphold the game's heritage of charitable support and his professional and meticulous presentation of himself and the sport through his dress and conduct.
"Tom Watson is a fine example of the attributes that make PGA TOUR players such excellent role models,'' PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem said at the presentation. "He has always conducted himself on and off the golf course with style and grace, and has fully embraced the philosophy of giving back to his community and to those less fortunate. Surely, Payne would have been proud to have Tom receive this award.''
Off the course, Watson is personally involved with giving back to his community and many worthy causes.
Since the late Bruce Edwards, Watson's longtime caddie, was diagnosed with the neurological disease ALS in January 2003, Watson has taken on a highly visible role in helping raise public awareness for the disease through the "Driving 4 Life" fundraising campaign. "Driving 4 Life" is a multimillion-dollar campaign supported by Watson.
In 2003 Watson captured the 2003 Charles Schwab Cup and its $1-million top prize and promptly donated the annuity to ALS research and patient care, as well as other charities. Additionally, Watson established the Bruce Edwards Trust to help defray Edwards' medical bills during his treatment for ALS. A longtime supporter of junior golf programs, particularly those in his native Kansas City, Watson has lent his name, time, money and enthusiasm to promoting junior golf throughout his professional career, which began in 1971.
Since 1981, he has spearheaded one of the largest youth clinic programs in the country. Clubs For Kids, which is now held every other year, provides instruction and promotes sportsmanship and integrity to youths ages 7 to 17 from the greater Kansas City area.
Beginning in 1977, Watson won six PGA TOUR Player of the Year awards and led the money list five times. In 2005, he earned his second Charles Schwab Cup, a season-long points race that rewards top-10 finishes, on the Champions Tour and has earned 10 victories on the over-50 circuit.
Yet it was his head-to-head victories against Nicklaus, 10 years his senior, that cemented him as a player for the ages. Watson also conducts himself as a man for the ages, someone never afraid to make a statement or take a stand in things in which he strongly believes.
"You have to have principles, you have to take positions,'' he said in a 1998 interview. "When I grew up, golf was a refuge filled with integrity. But sports in general has lost its code of honor. Guys don't listen to their coaches, they don't try their hardest -- and that bothers me. Ethics and honor are lacking today."