On the Wednesday afternoon before the U.S. Senior Open began at Notre Dame University’s Warren Golf Course in late June, Tom Watson stood on the practice tee grinding away, at times hitting shots from divots with a hybrid.
The 69-year-old Watson was searching for something and found it, shooting his age or better in three of the four rounds while finishing T17. Watson was asked afterward if the 2020 U.S. Senior Open would be on his schedule.
He paused and said he wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know when I’m going to stop playing,” Watson said back in June.
He has a better idea now.
Watson’s announcement last weekend that the Senior Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes was his final start in an Open Championship put an end to his days as one of the game’s greatest links players. Like Seve Ballesteros, Peter Thomson and a handful of others, Watson had a gift for playing along the sea and it rewarded him with eight Open titles – five in the big Open and three Senior Opens.
As he aged, Watson maintained a majesty when he played links golf, never failing to make the cut in 18 Senior Open Championships.
He played golf with will, with grit and with a rare determination that separated him. Watson gave as good as he got with Nicklaus and outran Father Time better than most.
“Life is full of passages, and I’ve passed through my career here, starting in 1975 to here in 2019. It’s amazing. I look back at it, and I say, man, that’s a lot of golf over a period of time. It’s just a passage, and there will be others that will play great golf and excite the crowds,” Watson said Sunday.
“I’ll always respect the way the game is played over here. The game of golf is played here with a passion, unequalled, and it’s part of the fabric of life that people have when they play golf here in the U.K. That’s what I’ve always appreciated.”
Watson said he struggles to fly his driver 250 yards now and he’s frustrated that he can’t play like he once did. His putting – he was a fabulously aggressive putter in his prime – has played hide and seek in recent years.
He recently called Jack Nicklaus to ask when he knew it was time to surrender the fight. Nicklaus said he realized it when he could no longer compete with the best players. Now it’s Watson’s turn.
There have been few better than him. He played golf with will, with grit and with a rare determination that separated him. Watson gave as good as he got with Nicklaus and outran Father Time better than most.
More often than not, when Watson went looking for something on the golf course he found it. Now he’s found the time to step away.
• The way Mark Brazil, tournament director of the Wyndham Championship, sees it, Brooks Koepka is the regular-season champion on the PGA Tour.
“You get a pennant or whatever in baseball. You’re the Western Conference champion in the NBA. There are all kinds of things you get in other sports. This is what came up here,” Brazil said of the new Wyndham Rewards program, which culminates this week at the Wyndham Championship.
For Koepka, who locked up first place in the Wyndham Rewards with his victory in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last Sunday, it means a $2 million bonus, the biggest chunk of a $10-million pot spread among the top 10 players in FedEx Cup points when the Wyndham Championship concludes in Greensboro, N.C., this Sunday.
The idea is to reward players for a season’s worth of achievement, and Koepka was good enough to lock down the top spot without playing the last event before the FedEx Cup playoffs. Would he have played Greensboro if he weren’t in the top spot?
He acknowledged last week there was a scenario that would have had him playing Sedgefield Country Club this week but he didn’t offer any details.
If Wyndham Rewards was enacted to help boost the number of top players in Greensboro this week, it didn’t start a stampede. Paul Casey is the only player among the top 10 in points (No. 8) playing Greensboro, the others choosing a week off before the three-week playoff run starts.
Should Casey win in Greensboro, the 500 points he would earn would move him as high as fourth in the Wyndham Rewards, bumping his payout from $600,000 to $1.1 million (not to mention the winner’s check).
It’s easy to conclude there’s so much money for the top players on the PGA Tour that chasing one more big payday isn’t worth giving up a week of rest at the end of a busy run.
Only seven players – Webb Simpson, Chez Reavie, Charles Howell III, Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama, Lucas Glover and Corey Conners – can play their way into the top 10 at Greensboro.
Brandt Snedeker thinks players are still getting familiar with the new bonus program, which debuts in a year that included significant scheduling challenges for players.
“I made the analogy that it’s very similar to the first year of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Guys didn’t know about it, didn’t know what it entailed, didn’t understand it. We thought it was a silly thing at the end of the year and we’ll see how it pans out,” Snedeker said.
“After the first year, guys were like, oh my gosh, this is a huge deal. We have to all set our schedules to make sure we’re there for it.
“(Wyndham Rewards) is going to grow every year as guys realize how important it is and what a great way to cap off the regular-season champion and what that’s going to mean.”
• The tournament within the tournament at Greensboro this week will involve watching which players squeeze into the top 125 in FedEx Cup points to retain their PGA Tour cards and who misses out, forcing them to recalibrate their plans for next season.
Alex Norén starts the week at No. 125 with Austin Cook and Richy Werenski in the two spots behind him.
Several players outside the top 125 are exempt next year based on recent victories including Cook (126), Martin Trainer (128), Patton Kizzire (129), Jason Dufner (136), Jim Herman (138), Zach Johnson (152), Jimmy Walker (155) and Brendan Steele (169).
Familiar names who need big weeks at Sedgefield include Daniel Berger (131), Bill Haas (140), Beau Hossler (143) and Martin Kaymer (146). They are not exempt for the 2019-20 season and while they would have conditional status if they finish 126th to 150th, getting them into approximately 15 events, they may choose to play the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in an effort to improve their status.
Tom Watson takes a bow on the 18th green during the final round of the Senior Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Photo: Phil Inglis, Getty Images
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