Tom Watson is one of the most enduring professional golfers since the late Sam Snead. In 2009, nearing his 60th birthday, he led the British Open much of the way before losing in a playoff. It was the feel-good sports story of the year, and will be talked about for as long as games are played and reported.
That stunning performance led to a revised British Open age limits that exempts him for at least five more years at the world’s oldest major championship. Watson has won it five times among his eight PGA Tour majors in a career further notable for memorable victories over Jack Nicklaus, golf’s best ever, on the biggest stages.
Watson won 39 times on the PGA tour with an aggressive, fast-paced style. Six times he was PGA Player of the Year, five times the leading money winner. Playing mostly on the over-50 Champions Tour now, he has won 13 more times there including five senior majors.
Watson was born in 1949 in Kansas City, Missouri, and has stayed, true to the Midwest’s solid values. He lives today on a farm outside Kansas City, and can be found doing chores and riding his wife’s cutting horses when he’s not on tour (he admits to falling off a horse only twice).
His father Ray, a long time scratch player, introduced him to golf at age 6. A young Tom soon developed into a state amateur champion at age 17, and went on to play for Stanford University, earning a degree in psychology in 1971. He joined the PGA Tour that same year and won his first tournament, the Western Open, in 1974. After losing leads in both the 1974 and 1975 U.S. Opens, Watson had the reputation of a choker, which was broken following his break-through year in 1977, where he won both the Masters and the British Open.
At the 1977 British Open, often referred to as the “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry, Tom played the final two rounds in 65-65 to Jack’s 65-66, finishing with a clinching birdie. It’s been called the Tournament of the Century. In Watson’s 1982 U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach, he holed a touchy chip shot from the greenside rough to birdie the 71st hole—arguably one of the greatest pressure shots ever—and then birdied the 18th to top Nicklaus.
After competing as part of the U.S. Team in the 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1989 Ryder Cups, Watson captained the 1993 U.S. Ryder Cup team through a closely contested tournament, pulling out the victory from behind in Sunday’s singles match.
Throughout his career, Watson has been a respected sportsman and spokesman for the sport. He received the U.S. Golf Association’s prestigious Bob Jones Award for distinguished sportsmanship in 1987 and was elected to the PGA World Golf Hall of Fame the following year. In addition, Watson won Golfer of the Decade for the 1980’s, celebrating his 19 wins and 86 top-10 finishes over the decade.
For 25 years Watson hosted the Children’s Mercy Golf Tournament, a benefit golf event featuring famous participants like Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino in his hometown of Kansas City, with proceeds going to a local children’s hospital. Over the 25 years, the tournament donated over $12 million to the hospital.
In addition to Watson’s fundraising and volunteerism for the children’s hospital, he has also been tremendously influential in Clubs for Kids, which began in the 1980’s and was the precursor for The First Tee of Kansas City, for which Watson is the Chairman of the Advisory Board.
When Watson’s long-time caddie, Bruce Edwards was diagnosed with ALS in 2003, Watson began searching for funding for a cure for the debilitating disease. Following Edwards’ death in 2004, Watson helped start the Bruce Edwards Foundation for ALS Research and the subsequent year he began the Bruce Edwards Celebrity Classic with renowned author, John Feinstein, raising nearly $3 million over the first five years of the tournament.
Over the past several years, Watson has become increasingly involved in helping support our troops by participating in trips to Iraq in both 2007 and 2009, where he celebrated Thanksgiving with the troops, gave golf lessons and delivered donated golf equipment, just "delivering a little bit of home" to the troops during their tours. He has also visited and raised funds for our Wounded Warriors to whom he says we owe as much help as possible.
Watson succeeded Snead as the second golf professional emeritus at the renowned Greenbrier resort, located in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, which has been a favorite destination of his for over 30 years. He first fell in love with the place during the 1979 Ryder Cup which was the same week as his first child, Meg, entered into this world.
Watson has a strong work and practice ethic and has admitted to hitting a “million practice balls” in order to continue honing his game. He’s considered one of the best foul weather players in the game, giving credit to his growing up in Kansas City, playing and practicing in the winter ice and snow.
Especially following his 2008 hip replacement and 2009 performance at the British Open at age 59 ½, Watson is considered a hero to Baby Boomers who want to stay active in “the game of a lifetime.” Top teachers and players believe he’s swinging the club better today than he was in his prime.
Watson carries solid credentials as a communicator. He does well-received clinics for charities, such as the First Tee, as well as his corporate sponsors, with a helpful demonstration of golf technique usually followed by revealing question-answer sessions and entertaining imitations of peers. He has done television commentary for ESPN and ABC.
Watson’s monthly article in Golf Digest is the No. 1 golf magazine’s most popular instructional feature. He has always enjoyed helping pros and amateurs alike with straightforward, tough-love lessons, concentrating on the basic fundamentals of grip, body posture, and ball position, without which, he tells his pupils, they can't be taught.
Through Tom Watson Design, Watson has produced over a dozen courses in the U.S. and abroad with a lot of hands on supervision. He keeps both the less-skilled players and varying wind conditions in mind as he works with the existing landscape to build beautiful, high quality courses. Watson’s first U.S. solo-designed project, Cassique (Kiawah Island, South Carolina) was named in the top 10 list of America’s Best New Private Courses by Golf Digest in 2001.
Watson’s first instructional DVD, Lessons of a Lifetime, was introduced in 2010, and has become one of the best selling instructional programs ever, having sold over 60,000 sets in 5 languages and in 36 countries. This 2-disc DVD program has been highly rated by golfers of all skill levels. In 2011 Watson released his fourth golf instruction book, The Timeless Swing. Both the DVD and book focus on his time-tested swing tips -- and adjustments he has made and recommends to stay competitive. An earlier book on the short game, Getting Up and Down, with famed illustrator Tony Ravielli, was a NY Times best seller and became a golf classic.
Tom constantly gives the credit for his success to the people who helped him throughout his life and career. In his early years his dad and Stan Thirsk built the foundation for his swing with a solid no-nonsense approach which served him well and from which his game blossomed. His desire, determination, and dedication had a lot to do with his success. This combination of mentors and a hard work ethic has been the key to a long and still continuing career.