Toshiba Classic interview: Tom Watson

March 15, 2013

MORE INTERVIEWS: Toshiba Classic transcript archive

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Welcome Tom Watson this afternoon to the interview room, World Golf Hall of Fame Winner, 14 time winner on the Champions Tour, 39 wins on the PGA Tour, and the 2014 United States Ryder Cup Captain. Tom, couple thoughts. You've had a fair amount of success in California in your career. Just a few thoughts about coming back to the Toshiba Classic?

TOM WATSON: Well, first of all, this is a course that I think everybody enjoys playing. It's a classic I want to say classic style of golf course, and it has smaller greens, just has enough to really challenge you. It's fun to play a golf course like this in these conditions where you play in heavy air, ball doesn't go very far. And these greens challenge your nerves because, you know, with the poa greens it gets just a little bumpy out there and the short putts get a little bit frightening to old guys' nerves like mine. That's my feeling about playing here. Last year I had to withdraw. I injured my hand. Fortunately it wasn't a bad injury, but I had to withdraw last year. But I've always enjoyed playing this golf tournament, this golf course. Jeff Purser does a great job. Toshiba is a wonderful sponsor of our tour and this particular tournament, and this area right here is a great area to come and play and enjoy.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Maybe some thoughts about your game. You played the one event there at Hualalai.

TOM WATSON: Yeah, I didn't play very well in Hualalai, but I practiced quite hard over there. Didn't get very far. My game has changed, something with my swing right now that I think is going to help my swing, and we'll see if the consistency comes back that I need to be able to compete. I've been practicing my two and a half and three footers out there for about a half hour because those are the ones that I was just talking about, you know. These greens are going to be treacherous this week. You're going to see a lot of those putts mixed. You have to get it in your head that sometimes you're not going to make those putts. So that's my mental attitude right now is to try to get the short putts working and let the new swing thought work and see what becomes of it. Hope that I can get it going this week.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: We'll just go for questions. Jeff?

Q You've been talking about putting. Since you've been away the tour has taken a position on anchoring

TOM WATSON: And the PGA of America.

Q Your friends with the PGA of America, and you've been a strong proponent though of the USGA and the R&A and you've also suggested you have some mixed feelings about anchoring. What do you think of how things have played out?

TOM WATSON: I do have mixed feelings and have direct, you know, feelings because my son Michael was a very poor putter with a conventional putter. He went to a belly putter and he makes everything, and he loves the game because of it. The game is fun. He can play lousy and then gets on the greens and he makes everything. And, yes, I don't think it's a stroke. I'm still in that camp, but the reality of the situation is this. This has been allowed to go on for X number of years, 30 years, 40 years. It's unlike I think the croquet putter you saw Sam Snead, I think the USGA made a very quick decision on that, said you can't do this, Sam. I'm not sure whether Sam was the only guy doing it, but made a very quick decision on that particular stroke. They didn't wait 30 years to make a decision on the stroke. So I think that's the crux of the issue. There's too many players who have been using it, and the USGA hasn't done anything about it. USGA and R&A haven't done anything about it. If they were going to do something about it, they should have done something about it a long time ago.

Q At the end of 2013 when you kick back on your ranch and reflect back on the year, what are you hoping to accomplish most? What are you hoping to reflect back on most in terms of your assessment of American talent out there and your play as a whole?

TOM WATSON: Well, it changed. It changed on December 13th. The public announcement was made that I was going to be a Ryder Cup Captain in 2014. What I am doing right now is trying to get familiar with the players on the regular tour and how they play and watch them play on TV. And I'll be around them at the Masters and the British Open and Greenbrier Classic, so I'll get some up close and personal stuff, meetings done with them. I'll be observing like I always observe. That's the reason one of the reasons for success out here that I give credit to a lot of my teachers back in Kansas City when I first came out, they said observe the best players, watch them. I've always observed, you know. I was with Lee Trevino last night for dinner. He's one of the greatest observers of human behavior and things, and of course he can make fun of it a lot too, but I've always admired his observations and the way he looks at things. He really understands and he sees. He sees and observes. That's what I am trying to do right now with watching the players on the telecasts. I'm taking more time to do what I need to do, the due diligence to create an understanding of who is out there, who plays well, who plays well in bad conditions, who plays well under pressure, how people react to bad times when they're on the golf course, a bad stretch. All these sorts of things that I had to deal with. People say maybe Tom is too old to take this job, and I said I countered very simply with the fact that I've been there. These guys are going through the same things that I did. I know what they're going through and they know that I know what they're going through. There's no age problem here. That's the understanding that I'll create with the team and we'll go from there.

Q I'm Diane Wagner, I write for, which is a women's health publication. I'm going to ask a quick health question. What do you recommend what do you suggest to baby boomers who want to remain active, whether it's golf, swimming, hiking, whatever? What do you recommend as a good fitness regimen when you get into your 50s and 60s to remain active?

TOM WATSON: All you need to do is do three things: You need to walk two miles a day at a fast pace, you need to do some simple push ups and sit ups. That's all you have to do.

Q Tom, some of these rookies on the Champions Tour, like Rocco and Steve Elkington, they just talk about how much of a pleasure it is just to meet you. How does that make you feel?

TOM WATSON: Old. Life is a series of passages. You go through life and you pass. I was watching Feherty interview Jack Nicklaus, and it was kind of hard to hear Jack talk about when David asked the question, Do you wish you could still be out there? And Jack said yes. But in reality he said I just can't do it anymore. And there's going to come a time where I'll go through this passage and I'll enter the next passage of my life where I can't do what I used to be able to do. And there's times when I am playing right now, I'm starting to question myself. Is it getting close? Is it getting closer to that time? But no, I still come up with I can still do it. I love Jack's description of Arnold. He said Arnold is 10 years older than I am and he still thinks he can do it. I love that. That's the passion and thought process that is great in human beings. That's what keeps you going. People talk about my good fortune at the 2009 British Open at 59 years old. Well, the bottom line is I really thought I could do it. I could win that tournament. I told my wife on Wednesday, we were laying in bed going to sleep. I said, You know, I can win this thing. I can win this thing. That's there's a belief and there's an honest but you have to be honest in your assessment of your ability like Jack was, like he is. I can't do it anymore. And that's a sad time. And I'm not there yet, but there will come a time.

Q So what about Muirfield, what do you think of Muirfield?

TOM WATSON: I love Muirfield.

Q How does that fit you this year?

TOM WATSON: How does it fit? With all the crosswinds and things like that, I've played it a number of times. I don't know how to play it, but it's a course on which I can compete. There are a couple holes that are I wish I could be hitting 4 irons into the greens like the kids are rather than a 3 hybrid or 2 hybrid. That's going to I better be good. Like going into the Masters, I better be spot on going into the Masters or I won't play very well. It's a course that just is very long and creates so many shots that I have to be just perfect with. And Muirfield has a couple of those shots, but not as much as Augusta for me. I love playing in Scotland. I love Muirfield. I really do like the golf course. It's one of my favorite courses in the world.

Q Just on that subject of that day where it's sad that it's no longer there, do you think it will be a little different for you because you've maintained an ability to play at an excellent level here at an age that not many people have ever really done in the history of the game?

TOM WATSON: It won't be any different. It won't be any different than those people that just have to hang them up. I was with a baseball player this last week in Phoenix, I was practicing there getting ready for the tournament and he had to hang it up because of injury. He's a young man. He's 37 years old. He's a pitcher. And that's a gut wrenching thing when you know, you play a game for a living, first of all, you're fortunate, but something like that stops you from playing, it makes you unable to compete, to play, that tears you up. It's a series of passages as I said. Sometimes those passages end abruptly and you have to quickly find out what you're going to do with the rest of your life.

Q Two questions kind of about the Ryder Cup. I know that you're not an advocate of the Olympics and golf in the Olympics. Do you think it's going to be further diluted being that it's a Ryder Cup year, the year of the Olympics, and you may not have some of the elite players even choose to go and do a team event in the Olympics in such a short period of I think three or four months?

TOM WATSON: Well, you just hit the nail on the head. With all the competitions we have, the important competitions we have in the world of professional golf, adding the Olympics, which I agree, it's a huge honor to play in the Olympics for your country. It's like playing the Ryder Cup, it's a huge honor. But in the reality situation, we have a lot of big major championships in the game. And to add the Olympics is it makes it more complex. Back in the old days it was four major championships. You just pointed to four major championships, boom, boom, boom, boom. Now you've got four major championships, you've got THE PLAYERS Championship, you've got all the FedExCup tournaments, you've got the World Golf Championships, and by the way now you've got the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup and now the Olympics.

Q That's 13 tournaments right there?

TOM WATSON: You've got a lot. What does that do to the tours?

Q Weakens them?

TOM WATSON: Yes, exactly right. It certainly does. The top players that play those 13 tournaments or 12 tournaments, you know, I asked the European players about the new tour qualifying system. It's not too bad. You know, top players still play 12 tournaments in America. Yeah, I guess you're right. I guess it used to be you played three, PGA, Masters, and U.S. Open. And now then you needed exemptions for the rest of it. Now you've got nine more you can play in America. So, you know, it's not that big a deal to the top players, but how about the players who are just starting?

Q I think for as long as we can remember, each year there's always between four to eight good Ryder Cup Captain's picks that are in the mix. I think there was three or four that were that didn't get the nod this year, and I think he went with experience with Stricker and Furyk as opposed to a couple other guys

TOM WATSON: That's what I did.

Q You would have made those choices?

TOM WATSON: I don't know if I would have made those choices, but I can only tell you what I did. In 1993 I had two picks, and the players from 11th to about 17th to 20, they were all playing cruddy. They were missing the cuts, you know, they were finishing 50th when they did make the cut, you know, for a long period of time. And I had to make a pick by the PGA. I made my picks by the PGA. Nobody really stood out. Of the players, you know, right there at the borderline of making the team or not, they weren't playing well. And the way I look at it, I want somebody on the upswing when they're going to the Ryder Cup. They're playing well, they've got some momentum going into the Ryder Cup. Of course, back then you picked those picks in the second week of August and then you played at the end of September, so you had maybe six weeks of time for those guys to their games to fall off. Now we do it the Monday after Labor Day, pick the picks, and now I have a better chance of seeing how these guys are playing. Are they on the upswing or downswing? That's how I assess who I'm going to be playing, putting in there. If I have some players that are playing on the upswing, showing that they can play in the heat of competition and bad conditions, which we're going to have over there, those are the qualities I'm looking for in players. And then in my case in '93 none of those players were doing that. So I went with experience. I picked Lanny Wadkins and Ray Floyd. Lanny didn't have a particularly good Ryder Cup, but Ray Floyd did for me, you know, for them, for their team.

Q So with all things being equal, which they can't, you would like to go with someone playing well as opposed to experience?

TOM WATSON: Well, the best of all worlds is having great experience, a lot of time in playing the Ryder Cups, and playing well at that particular time. That's the perfect pick. You know, it will be easy for you to determine who I'm going to pick on September 9th, 2014, or whenever it is. You'll say Watson is going to pick this guy because he just told me back 17 months ago how he's going to make his decision. Well, I'm telling you how I'm going to make the decision right now.

Q Last thing for you, can you speak a little bit about the Bruce Edwards Foundation and kind of the momentum that it's picking up? It seems it's raising a ton of money each year?

TOM WATSON: This year we're having another benefit. John Feinstein, who wrote the book Caddy for Life, is heading it up. Neil Oxman, who caddies for me, is doing the bulk of the work. Gwen, Bruce's sister, who heads up the foundation, she does a heck of a lot of work, and we're going to have it at Whitemarsh this year in the old IVB Classic in Philadelphia. We're going to be raising some significant funds for the foundation, which will indeed go to research, try to find a cure for ALS.

Q Thanks, Tom.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Anything else for Tom?

Q Just one last question about the Ryder Cup. Congratulations, by the way.

TOM WATSON: Thank you.

Q Did we get a little hint there about maybe Assistant Trevino?

TOM WATSON: He'd be a good assistant, yeah. Yeah. There are a lot of people I could choose from. I haven't made any decisions yet.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Tom, good luck this week. Thank you very much.

TOM WATSON: Thank you. Nice to be back.