Legendary golfer Tom Watson is playing in the Toshiba Classic this week on the Champions Tour. Mr. Watson won the 1974 Western Open as a 24-year-old, and went on to have one of the greatest 10-year stretches of all-time. From the 1974 Western Open to the 1984 Western Open, Watson won 36 times on the PGA Tour, including eight majors. In addition, Jack Nicklaus finished second to Watson four times in major championships.
At the pre-tournament press conference, I asked Mr. Watson what his advice is to the young players on the PGA Tour who are trying to improve upon their careers. Patrick Reed, Harris English, Russell Henley, and Jordan Spieth are winning tournaments, but in order to continue their stellar play, they will need to overcome the challenges associated with playing one of the cruelest games in the world.
Mr. Watson’s advice involved his personal experience of working harder than anyone on Tour, having the goal to be the best player in the world, and feeling like he belonged:
Well it took me a while to win my first tournament in 1974, the Western Open. I started in October of ’71, and I had a few opportunities to win. I had the lead or was close to the lead, and I failed. I choked, and I didn’t finish, and it took me a while to get that first victory at the Western Open in Chicago.
My advice is, at that time, I was trying to simply feel like I belonged out here. Was I good enough to be a professional golfer out here? And I felt like I had some of the tools, not all the tools, but some of the tools. I also knew I was going to work as hard or harder than anybody out here as far as practicing and trying to refine my game to get better. And I think I lived up to that goal of mine, and ‘74 was the first win, and it certainly put me in a good frame of mind.
I remember coming back, and talking to some people in Kansas City. My father was there, and a good friend of his, and I was talking about my [first] victory. I said that I’d like to be the best golfer in the world. Didn’t say I was, but that was my goal, to become the best golfer in the world. Look, if you don’t reach for it, you are not going to get there, that was the whole point. I remember my Dad’s friend taking me aside and said, “you shouldn’t say things like that.”
That was my goal, it took me a while until I really felt like I belonged. 1977, after the Open Championship at Turnberry, I finally believed in myself at that time that I could play with the best in the world.