The universal admiration for Tom Watson was evident at the U.S. Senior Open here this week, from those seeking his autographs to his peers.
“I think Tom Watson is loved in Scotland, very well thought of all over the world, obviously, but loved in Scotland,” said Colin Montgomerie, calling the U.S. PGA decision to make Watson the captain of the 2014 Ryder Cup team “very wise and very brave” and adding, “The U.S. hasn't had the success that it might have expected in the Ryder Cup over the last 20 years, and they kept on changing captains for the sake of changing captains, somebody new all the time.
“I think that the players that play under Tom Watson, the American players playing under Tom Watson, will have full respect for whatever he has to say.”
Said Fred Couples: “We have a winning Ryder Cup captain that's going to do it for a second time. I mean, he's Tom Watson. He's won the British Open a million times, and he's going to be the captain overseas. He's one of my all-time favorites.”
This isn’t just about being an accomplished golfer. It’s because he remains a guardian of the game and the long-held values perhaps best encapsulated in Bobby Jones’ response after he assessed himself a penalty stroke in the 1925 U.S. Open that ultimately cost him the title and was being congratulated for it.
His precise words vary from source to source, but the idea is consistent: “You might as well praise me for not breaking into banks,” he said. “There is only one way to play this game.”
And so it is with Watson.
“You’re quiet when (competitors) are hitting their shot. Wow, what other sport is there like that?” he said Wednesday. “You’re trying to razz them. You’re trying to distract them. You look at the teams in basketball. You’ve got the dummies up (in the stands) when guys are shooting free throws, trying to make them miss.
“Or (in football or baseball) did I catch the ball or not? Yeah I caught it -- when he trapped it.”
Not that golf hasn’t been afflicted with oafish behavior, especially in the galleries in recent years.
“There’s just a certain amount of class that’s lacking but that’s our society today,” Watson said during a news conference, amplifying it in a conversation later. “All that ‘youtheman’ and ‘be the ball’ and ‘get in the hole.’ It has changed, like our country. It’s a lot more informal.
“Before you went out on the golf course, and you remained quiet. And now you don’t, because there are people out there who want to get on TV, or they want to get heard so they can text their friends and say, ‘Hey, did you just hear me say ‘youtheman?’
“And that’s their mentality. It’s instant fame. It’s like twitter. People want to be famous, and they don’t want to go through the hard work to get there. I understand that. And I don’t particularly like it.”