Tom Watson hopes there will be a new champion this year in the ninth annual Watson Challenge golf tournament.
Robert Streb, a former Kansas State player who is now on the PGA Tour, won the event last year. But organizers announced Thursday that this year’s event is set for June 12 to 14 at Mission Hills Country Club, a week before the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Club in University Park, Wash.
Streb said he will try to get in the U.S. Open at a qualifying tournament June 8 in Memphis., Tenn., but it is possible that he would play in the Watson Challenge if he doesn’t make it.
“I sincerely hope you aren’t playing here. I hope you are playing in our national Open,” Watson told Streb. “That’s the premier event to play in. But if you are here, you better watch out for an old (man).”
Streb gained his first PGA Tour victory last fall at The McGladrey Classic, but he has struggled recently. After starting the 2015 portion of the PGA Tour schedule with three straight top-20 finishes, Streb has missed the cut in five of his last eight starts.
Streb said he hopes to get back into form, especially with his short game, as he plans to play the next three weeks, starting with the Players Champions in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The Challenge also falls during a busy time for Watson. He’ll play, along with Streb, in the PGA Tour’s Colonial tournament May 21 to 24 in Fort Worth, Texas. His schedule will also include the U.S. Senior Open, which is June 25 to 28 in Sacramento, Calif., as well as the British Open and British Senior Open in July.
Watson is looking forward to playing at Mission Hills. Watson, 65, recalls going there as an 8-year-old with his grandmother for a junior day and how assistant pro Stan Thirsk liked his swing because he could keep his balance while swinging hard. Thirsk ended up being a mentor to Watson while working as the professional at the Kansas City Country Club for 30-plus years before retiring.
Watson has won the Challenge five times and despite some limitations has visions of making it six this year.
“These kids hit it a lot farther than I do,” Watson said. “That’s a big advantage. I can’t let my ego get involved.”
Bryan Norton, one of 48 players in this year’s field and a member at Mission Hills, is glad the Challenge is coming to his course, which was renovated in 2007.
“As a member, I take a lot of pride in Mission Hills hosting the tournament this year,” he said, “I couldn’t be more proud of the club.”
Norton said he likes the course’s difficult finishing holes. Watson said one of his favorite holes is No. 17, which requires players to carry water with a long approach shot to a green that doesn’t hold many shots.
The Challenge will again benefit the First Tee of Greater Kansas City. More than $400,000 has been raised for the program through past Challenges.
Watson said the First Tee program does a good job of educating kids about golf while stressing nine core values that will help them in life.
“It brings kids to a new game and teaches them the way to play,” Watson said. “You treat people the way you want to be treated. Golf is that way.”