I don’t claim that it was poetic justice. But Tom Watson’s loss in the British Open on Sunday brought him to 1-1 in playoffs against Atlanta residents (that I know of).
“Always nice to win,” Watson said in 1981 when he strode into the media area at the Atlanta Country Club. Still, he had to feel a little like the proverbial man in the black hat and mustache who had foreclosed on the little old lady. Watson, then in the prime of his career, had just beaten University of Georgia graduate and local hero Tommy Valentine to win the Atlanta Classic golf tournament. Watson had already won the Masters that year, and he won in Atlanta on the third hole of sudden death.
“Tommy’s got a good swing,” Watson, very engaging, told reporters of the upstart. Frequent yells of “Go Dawgs” could be heard among the staid fairways as Watson, then the cool one, took advantage of Valentine errors to win.
And what a career Watson has had: the memorable duels with Jack Nicklaus in ’77, the “Wedge from the Weeds” (video) at the U.S. Open in ’82. Valentine? Googling turns up nothing significant.
I was amazed at the contrast in watching Watson in the recent British Open. He has been out of the spotlight for many years, and he looked subdued. Not as much of that famous, gap-toothed smile. And when Watson fell apart in the playoff against Georgia Tech grad Stewart Cink, I had to wonder whether it was simple fatigue. At 59, that’s an extra load of pressure.
“Tommy was in a bad way,” Watson replied in ’81 when I asked him why he laid up on the final playoff hole. But such things happen to all golfers eventually.