Tom Watson made his final walk up the 18th hole of a British Open in the waning dusk on Friday evening at St. Andrews’ Old Course.
Watson, a 65-year-old Kansas City native, received appreciative ovations not only in that fading light on arguably golf’s most famous grounds but throughout his final round at the home of golf.
When his name was announced on the first tee the significant crowds roared with approval. And as Watson walked down the first hole, he was compelled to wave at the fans giving him a standing ovation in the grandstands.
But Friday was still a competitive round for Watson, and he soldiered through the gusty wind and intermittent rain all afternoon and into early, mid, then late evening.
Above all, Watson displayed a gracious spirit in his final act at the British Open.
Asked in his post-round press conference what can be learned from golf, Watson confidentlysaid, “Humility.”
That virtue characterized Watson’s post-round comments to peers, family and others. It was insightful to see his deportment as he sat on stage and had the wherewithal, during a moment surely emotional in various way, to impersonate his friend Jack Nicklaus’ high-pitched voice in relating a story.
Watson was also unusually void of tears. When Nicklaus made the same walk ten years ago at St. Andrews Watson shed his fair share. Not so this time.
“Walking up the 18th hole, actually on the tee, I told my son, I said, ‘Michael, there should be no tears, this should be all joy’,” Watson said. “Let's go up and go out and enjoy the walk up the last hole."
So was there a tear shed near the end?
“Not a single one, not a single tear,” Watson said.
“I didn't know how I was going to feel walking across the bridge, but I do know that I looked up in the sky, and I said, ‘I know there are a lot of other people watching me from not just right here’... a lot of loved ones. It was a special time.”
Special was the word many used to describe the moment, including Watson’s playing partner Brandt Snedeker.
“It was great to see him on the green on 18 and on that bridge was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed or been a part of in golf,” Snedeker said.
Snedeker said he thanked Watson for the memories he has provided.
“It’s been a fun ride watching him play golf for a long time and the success he’s had, it’s been unbelievable,” Snedeker said
For Watson’s son Michael, the experience on the bag this week was rare for any father-son combo.
“I know it was extremely emotional but he was prepared coming in,” Michael Watson said. “It’s one of those things. It’s come to a day where the Open is over for him. The Open has defined his career and it’s not fun to have a finality. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Golf often unites families and close friends. Just as Tom and Michael soaked in the moment together, Graeme McDowell and his father Kenny waited with past Open winner Tom Lehman and Matt Kuchar to congratulate Watson.
“Fantastic, it’s just a poignant moment isn’t it,” McDowell said. “It’s an ‘I was there’ moment kind of thing.”
Fans from around the world felt the same way, including Ken Muratsu from Tokyo.
“It’s historic,” Muratsu said. “It’s like a picture, a print.”
Scottish golf fans have showed appreciation for Watson over the years. St. Andrews caddie John Boyne believes he’s been accepted well because of his no-nonsense attitude as a golfer.
“He hits his shot and moves on. No fuss,” Boyne said. “He’s a proper golfer. That’s what us Scots like, proper golfers.”
Jack Willoughby who owns the Dunvegan Hotel, called the atmosphere “electric” in his restaurant and bar Friday night. At that moment Watson was the talk of the town.
“It’s the history,” Willoughby said. "That doesn’t happen very often. Watson will be remembered as long as golf is around.”
Watson heads into the annals of St. Andrews golf history with a smile, literally a far cry from his emotional final U.S. Open sendoff at Pebble Beach in 2010
“It’s very similar,” Watson said when asked to compare the experiences. “Pebble Beach is the other course that people think about when they think of all the great golf courses of the world. It just happened to be in the U.S. Open there.”
Because of a rain delay early Friday, Watson didn’t wrap up his news conference until 10:48 p.m., and he was asked if his party for his family and friends was still on for Friday night.
“Nope not tonight,” he said. “Tomorrow night.”