Doffing his cap to the gallery, a misty-eyed Tom Watson made his way up to the 17th green for probably the last time at a US Open. Next to him was his son, Michael, who was carrying his bag on Father’s Day. To their right, the crowd lining the fairway to the fans sitting in the grandstands had broken out in a warm standing ovation. At the foot of the stands, I clapped while I tried to soak in the moment and looked on in awe of Watson, particularly the memories he shared with the 17th hole at Pebble Beach on US Open Sundays.
It was here that Watson chipped in from the thick rough left of the green to a difficult back left pin placement to clinch victory at the ’82 championship by a shot over Jack Nicklaus. On this Sunday — 28 years later — the flag was in a similar spot, where Watson knocked his second shot from the bunker to tap-in range to save par.
As he and playing partner Edoardo Molinari and their caddies were walking off the green, they stopped while Watson gestured toward something in the direction of the pin — perhaps he was explaining the hour glass shape of the green or maybe he was recalling his incredible shot in ’82. Who knows, but I’ve been kicking myself because I forgot to ask him when he spoke to reporters later.
After hitting a beautiful drive down the middle on 18, he tipped his cap and smiled at the fans all the way down the fairway. “Tommy!” and “Tom!” cheers roared the entire time.
I could feel the chills going down my spine and I started to get a little choked up. There’s something about these sentimental moments in sports that make me very emotional (I mean, I cried for nearly a week after Watson lost the British Open. And yes, I admit to it.).
His second shot on the par 5 flew into the bunker just short and right of the green. He looked down at the ground in disappointment after he realized the ball didn’t end up where he wanted.
As Watson walked up to the 18th green the hole-long standing ovation continued. By the time he reached the green, tears were running down his face. But he managed to hit another beautiful shot from the sand for the second hole in a row, knocking it to about three feet for birdie.
Unable to see through his watery eyes, he missed the putt, but made the comeback for par.
“There were a lot of emotions going on there on 18 today,” Watson said. “Even with my son on the bag and all the memories, great memories I’ve had here.”
Surrounded by a handful of reporters behind the 18th green (including yours truly), Michael was also fighting the emotions when asked about the putt. With his eyes hidden behind dark shades, he took a second to collect himself and quietly said, “He missed. He missed..it was tough in the moment.”
After Watson hugged his son for a touching moment — particularly on Father’s Day — he stopped for the dramatic throw of his ball into the water. “It was fitting. It was ‘thank you,'” Michael said.
“Well, I threw the ball in the ocean after I won the U.S. Open in 1982,” Watson explained. And what you do, you give the ocean its due because you never know when it’s going to take it from you.”
After he was whisked away to the flash interview area, a marshal reminded Michael she needed his caddie bib. “I don’t know if I want to give this back to you,” he said only half-jokingly while he simultaneously pulled it over his head and handed it to her.
Five minutes later, the same lady returned and asked Michael if he wanted to keep the bib. I can’t even describe the look on his face and gratitude in his voice, but he was very appreciative. “That’s going up on the wall,” he said, folding it gently and putting carefully in his dad’s bag.
I just felt lucky to witness a little sliver of Tom Watson’s last round at a US Open. Oh, memories. Thank you, Tom.