It didn’t hit him until his approach at the 18th found the bunker. Then, and only then, did Tom Watson allow the moment to sink in.
Father’s Day. His son Michael on the bag. At Pebble Beach.
For the last time at a U.S. Open.
Watson choked back the tears as he took in the beauty of the waves lapping at the beach in Stillwater Cove. As he and Michael made that walk to the green. As the crowds welcomed a special player to a very special place for what’s likely the final time.
“It was overwhelming today coming up the 18 th hole,’’ said Watson, who closed with a par, a 76 and an 11-over-par 295.
Yes, it was. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and winning here with longtime friend Sandy Tatum. The 1982 U.S. Open. Really all the U.S. Opens here. The 1977 PGA too. His dad winning the Crosby Clambake in the California Desert at Rancho Santa Fe.
Like he said, a special place. History.
And at 60, his last chance to place this course in a major.
“I owe a lot of ‑‑ probably most of what I have to my dad as far as my ability to play golf,’’ Watson said. “My love for the game, my passion for the game, my ability to play the game, that came from my dad.’’
His dad always said Pebble had the three best par-4s in a row – the eighth, ninth and 10 th.
“They call them the Cliffs of Doom now,’’ Watson said. “I think that's a little bit over the top, but they're just three beautiful par‑4s. I didn't play them too well today.
“But I did make a birdie at 9, and I did make a birdie at 8 today; and so I birdied 9 ones and 8 ones in the eight attempts at those holes. So pretty happy with that. ‘’
Pretty happy, period, to be the only player to have played in all five U.S. Opens here. Watson, who was given a special exemption this year, made the cut in all but one – 1992 – and hit the shot heard round the world in 1982 when he chipped in at the 17 th to win his first major.
He had a chance to finish with a birdie. Marvelous bunker shot. Not so marvelous birdie attempt. But the par putt swirled around the hole and fell in.
“I drew a blank on the putt,’’ he said, “and pushed it out there and made it coming back.’’
Watson more than held his own this week. He held his head as high as he at Turnberry last year when he came within one hole of becoming the oldest man to win a major. Instead, he lost the lead on the 72 nd hole and lost a playoff to Stewart Cink.
The crowds gave him an ovation on almost every hole. Their smiles and cheers reminded him of what he’ll miss.
“There's a lots of sadness today,’’ he said. “A lot of sadness. Yet it's based on a lot of memories and great memories that I've had here, and it very well may be my last time playing Pebble Beach in a championship of this caliber probably.’’
Now that this major is done, Watson’s schedule calls for four more in a row – the British Open, at St. Andrews, the British Senior Open, the U.S. Senior Open and the Tradition. And he said he needs to get his game in gear.
“I need to start playing a little bit better than I am right now,’’ he said. “I just am a little bit off, and I just didn't have good control this entire week even though I shot a couple good middle rounds. It was done somewhat with smoke and mirrors and a lot of experience playing Pebble Beach.
“I didn't hit the ball with the irons and put it in play enough times off the tee on the back nine, and it cost me. It cost me a lot of shots. ‘’
He wasn’t alone. Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson. Ernie Els. Dustin Johnson. The list goes on.
And no one knows the pressures of an Open as well as Watson. Especially here.
“It really is everything is on the line, the pressure's as high as it's going to get and you're playing a very, very difficult golf course,’’ he said. “Can you handle it? Can you handle it?
“I mean I've been in positions, and I couldn't handle it. Fortunately, I was in the position one time when I could handle it. And it was ‑‑ it's what we're out here for. It's what we're out here to play golf for is to play in championships such as the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.’’
He smiled through the questions. Pausing every so often to compose himself a bit. You had the feeling the tears would flow later. In private.
But in typical Watson fashion, he finished the round off by tossing his golf ball into the ocean. Just like he did in 1982.
“What you do, you give the ocean its due because you never know when it's going to take it from you,’’ Watson said.
“I've hit it into that ocean off the tee a few times, and throwing the ball in the ocean is kind of a thank you for not taking it one more time.’’ -- Melanie Hauser