Thomas Sturges Watson’s name is in the first paragraph of any reckoning of golf’s greatest players.
The number one player in the world from 1978 to 1982, Watson is one of golf’s most iconic figures. With eight major championship titles, he ranks sixth on the all-time list. Watson won 71 professional tournaments, including 39 on the PGA Tour. He won 14 Champions Tour events, including six majors, and was a six-time Player of the Year. Watson was the Tour’s top money winner five times and earned three Vardon Trophies for lowest scoring average. One of the greatest links players of all time, Watson won five Open Championships, finished second twice, and claimed three Senior Open Championship titles.
One of the most complete golfers ever to play the game, Watson was long and accurate. Employing an aggressive style of play, he had a superb short game and was a skilled and confidant putter. Displaying a remarkable consistency, Watson made at least one cut in a Tour event each year from 1971 to 2007, an unfathomable 37 straight years. He posted a top-ten finish in a major for 18 straight years and in 19 of 20 seasons between 1974 and 1994. Mr. Watson is the only man in history to shoot at least one round of 67 or better in all four majors in four different decades. How consistent was Watson? Consider this: he finished in the top ten in all four majors three different times and twice won two in the same year. In 1977, he won five times [including two majors] and finished sixth at the PGA Championship and seventh at the U.S. Open.
At the height of his career, Watson was known for his ability to recover from trouble, especially around the greens. His ability to get the ball up and down for par seemingly from anywhere on the golf course led to his famous escapes becoming known as a Watson par.
One of golf’s most endearing figures may also be the game’s most accomplished bad-weather player. Tom Watson loved wind, and was even happier in rain. He is beloved in Scotland, where he won five Open Championships and three Senior Open titles in the home of golf. Watson is at his best when the conditions are most demanding. He has two runner-up and ten top-ten finishes at the Open Championship, and eight top tens in 14 Senior Open starts. In 2009, he nearly pulled off the impossible. Leading on the 72nd hole at Turnberry, he needed a par to capture a record-tying sixth Open Championship. After his second shot rolled over the green, he missed his par putt by six inches, sending him into a playoff with eventual winner Stuart Cink. A win would have made the immensely popular 59-year-old the oldest major championship winner by 11 years. It seemed the entire world wanted to see Watson win. Afterward, he told the international press, “Nobody died, fellas. It’s still just a golf tournament.”
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, September 4, 1949, young Tom was introduced to golf by his father Ray. He learned the game at Kansas City Country Club under instructor Stan Thirsk. Watson attended Pembroke Country Day school in Kansas City and was a high school prodigy, winning the first of four Missouri State Amateur Championships at 17. Watson attended Stanford University on a golf and table tennis scholarship, graduating with a psychology degree in 1971. Later that year, he joined the PGA Tour.
In 1973, Watson hired Bruce Edwards to caddy for him for the first time at a tournament in St. Louis. The two worked together until 1989, when Edwards left to join Greg Norman. Edwards returned to Watson’s side in 1992 and stayed until 2003, when he was diagnosed with ALS [commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease]. He continued to caddie for Watson until the strain became too much. Bruce Edwards, who is a member of the Caddy Hall of Fame, succumbed to ALS in April 2004 at 49. The duo formed one of the greatest player-caddy partnerships in golf history. Since 2003, Watson has raised millions of dollars for ALS research.
The seemingly ageless Watson won his first PGA Tour event at the 1974 Western Open, where he beat Tom Weiskopf by two shots. His last Tour win came at the 1998 Colonial, where he bested Jim Furyk by two strokes. Only the great Sam Snead rivals Tom Watson for sustained excellence. He is the oldest player to hold the lead after any round of a major and is the oldest player  to hold the 54-hole lead at a major [2009 Open Championship]. In 2015, Watson shot 71 at the Masters, making the 65-year-old Watson the oldest man to break par in the history of that esteemed championship.
Watson has been at the center of some of the biggest moments in golf history, many of which include Jack Nicklaus. At the 1977 Masters, Watson’s 15-foot birdie putt slithered into the hole to beat the Golden Bear to help capture the first of two career Green Jackets. Three months later, golf’s two most talented players squared off again at the Open Championship at Turnberry – the epic Duel in the Sun. Competing at the top of their games, the pair began the weekend tied. Nicklaus then shot 65-66, only to lose by one to Watson’s inconceivable 65-65. Watson’s dramatic chip-in on the 71st hole at Pebble Beach to win the 1982 U.S. Open – golf’s Shot Heard Round the World — may be the most dramatic ever played. Tied with Nicklaus, Watson’s tee shot at the par-3 17th tumbled into the gnarly rough behind the green and above the hole. Facing a certain bogey [or worse], his chip hit the flagstick and fell in for an improbable birdie and his only U.S. Open title.
Tom Watson bade an emotional farewell to golf’s oldest championship while playing in the 2015 British Open at St. Andrews. Last year, he played in his last Masters. Mr. Watson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988 and is a member of the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame. He was voted the Bob Jones Award in 1987 — the USGA’s highest honor — in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. Watson earned over $ 11 million dollars as a professional. He played on four Ryder Cup teams [missing a fifth due to the birth of one of his children] and twice captained the American side. Watson has been granted lifetime membership to the European Tour and, in 2000 was ranked the tenth greatest player of all time by Golf Digest.
On this date in 1982, Tom Watson shot a final round 70 to win the Open Championship over Peter Oosterhuis and Nick Price at Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland. One month after claiming the U.S. Open with his dramatic chip-in at Pebble Beach, Watson became the fifth player in history to win the U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same year. Watson’s four-under-par total of 284 earned him the seventh of his eight career major titles.