Tom Watson doesn’t play as much competitive golf as he used to, but he still enjoys events put on by the United States Golf Association.
Watson, a 66-year-old Kansas City native, is in the field for the U.S. Senior Open, which will be played today through Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s always one of the couple of tournaments that I point to all year,” Watson said. “It’s a major championship to me. I always had the feeling that any time I played in a USGA event, it was going to be the toughest golf course we play all year, and it hasn’t disappointed me.”
Watson has won eight major championships on the PGA Tour and six senior majors during his career. In 14 Senior Opens, he has three second-place finishes and eight top 10s, including last year when he tied for seventh place after leading after 36 holes.
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“The U.S. Open, as I’ve said many times, is the tournament I’ve always wanted to win the most, going back to the days when I started playing at USGA events over 50 years ago,” Watson said.
As he prepared to play in this year’s Senior Open, Watson recalled his younger days.
“The first USGA event I ever played in was kind of a disappointment because I qualified for the USGA Junior, the National Junior, at Indian Hills Country Club when I was 15 years old,” Watson said. “My dad said, ‘Son, you can’t go.’ It was too expensive. He didn’t want to send me to the East Coast or wherever it was playing. Too expensive to get there.
“But I qualified No. 1, and the second guy got in. I believe that was 1965 when I qualified. So I’ve had a long experience with the USGA.”
Watson finally experienced winning the U.S. Open in 1982 at Pebble Beach.
“I grew up under my dad’s wing, and he said, ‘If you win the U.S. Open, you win the National Open, you are the best,’ ” Watson said. “He said, ‘That’s the most difficult golf tournament to win. If you win it, then you’ve really accomplished the pinnacle in golf when you win the U.S. Open.’ ”
Although he doesn’t hit the ball as far as he used to, Watson said he feels good about the way he is playing entering this year’s Senior Open. He is trying a new putting stroke that involves rocking his shoulders more so he can keep more of a pendulum motion going.
“I understand how to score,” he said. “The older you get, the more mental mistakes you make as far as, ‘Why did I hit the ball here when I know I’m not supposed to hit the ball here?’
“That’s where (Bernhard) Langer is so tough, and he’s not going to make those types of mental mistakes. I find myself making a few of them during the course of the tournament, and that costs me strokes.”
Watson prepared for the Open by practicing in the Boston area, and he took time out to attend the Bruce Edwards Foundation Benefit Dinner, held by the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship in Hartford, Conn. The event raised more than $1.1 million to support research in the fight against ALS. Edwards, Watson’s longtime caddy, died of ALS in 2004.
“To have this kind of event held in Bruce’s honor, raising money that will help us treat and hopefully beat ALS, is inspiring,” Watson said. “Bruce would be very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, coming together and putting the focus on finding a cure for such a terrible disease.”
Tom Smith: 816-234-4240