Monday, July 20, 2009


Tom Watson had just hit a perfect drive on the 18th hole of the final round of the 138th Open Championship. He simply needed par to become the oldest golfer to win a major.

In fact, three more shots and he may have become the oldest guy to win any major championship in any sport not restricted to…well, old guys.

So there he is 187 yards away from the green. He hits an 8-iron that looks perfect. It hits in front of the green takes a hard bounce and rolls across the green to the fringe. By now everybody knows that he didn’t get up and down and went on to lose the four hole playoff to Stewart Cink who had made a clutch birdie on that same hole to tie for the lead just moments before.

Nobody would want the putt Watson had to win the British Open. We don’t want that putt for a $2 Nassau on Saturday afternoon. As ridiculous as it is to say that a man that has won 9 majors has a major weakness, it would seem fair to say it was Watson’s putting. But in the end, it wasn’t really his putter that got him.

It was that damn 8-iron.

When Watson’s approach to 18 stopped rolling in that tricky little spot up against the collar at the back of the 18th green, it had rolled 190 yards. Yes, 190 yards with a 8-iron.

Now we played some links golf once in Ireland, and at Ballybunion we recall having 193 yards to the hole. We were standing there holding a 5-iron like any normal human when the group’s caddie handed over the 8-iron.


Now on a good day, we can get that stick 165 yards – on an average day 160 yards.

Yes, it was windy, it was Ireland. So if it’s still there, and the suns up and the grass is green than you can bet the wind is blowing. But, it wasn’t THAT windy – or so we thought.

Now, we aren’t one to argue with Irish caddies. There really is no upside. So we hit the 8-rion. Hit it flush, as a matter of fact. The wind grabbed it and it landed in front of the green and rolled on. Distance travelled: 190 yards.

The point of this lovely little Irish golf tale is it’s not impossible for a 50-year-old amateur to hit an 8-iron 190 yards. Which leads us to the odd conclusion that Tom Watson may have won the British Open if he had simply chosen a 9-iron for that final approach shot.

Imagine the conversation between Watson and his caddie Neil Oxman.

Watson: It’s 187 to the flag…
Ox: Hit the 9-iron. You’re all amped up Tom, hit one less club.
Watson: Did you hear me OX, it’s 187 yards…
Ox: Hit the 9-iron.
Watson: Jeez, Ox it’s 187 EFFING yards…

Seriously, who in their right mind at that moment would have told Tom Watson to hit a 9-iron in that situation?

Well there is a guy, and he’s a caddie. His name is Alfie Fyles and he was Watson’s caddie when he beat Jack Nicklaus in the British back in 1977.

On the 72nd hole, Watson had a one stroke lead over Nicklaus. Watson was in the fairway 180 yards from the flag. Fyles offered up a seven-iron. Watson said, "You know I can only carry 160/165 with a six.”

"Ah," said Alfie, "but the way your adrenalin's pumpin', Tom."

Watson took the seven and hit it 30 inches from the cup, sank the putt and beat Nicklaus by a stroke.

As Frank DeFord said so eloquently today on, “Tom Watson didn't lose the British Open because he was 59 years old. He lost because he was 59 years old, but playing like the 26-year-old he was back in 1977— only he didn't have that old-fashioned caddie to remind him how good and strong he was again.”

You golfers know that it’s a game of inches, and this time it was just a fraction of an inch – the difference between an 8-iron and 9-iron.

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