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Volume 23 No. 18
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Closing Shot: What it takes to win The Open

Tom Watson has five Open Championship wins to his credit, so his fingerprints are all over the Claret Jug. He recalls his finest moments and what makes the event so special, and at times maddening.
Tom Watson used strong putting to win his third Open Championship in 1980, finishing at 13-under par for a four-stroke win at Scotland’s Muirfield course.
Photo: Getty images
Tom Watson used strong putting to win his third Open Championship in 1980, finishing at 13-under par for a four-stroke win at Scotland’s Muirfield course.
Photo: Getty images
Tom Watson used strong putting to win his third Open Championship in 1980, finishing at 13-under par for a four-stroke win at Scotland’s Muirfield course.
Photo: Getty images

Tom Watson knows The Open Championship.

The World Golf Hall of Fame member captured the 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983 Open Championships and in 2009, at age 59, narrowly missed winning another with a second-place finish in a four-hole playoff.

The world’s best golfers are set to tee it up at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the 148th Open Championship this week, where they will compete for the coveted Claret Jug trophy. If they need any advice for the event, they should go to Watson.

Though Watson won The Open five times, he initially didn’t take to Europe’s rugged links courses that feature large greens, fescue grass, hard fairways and unpredictable weather.

 “The reason was that I hit the ball very high and I expected it to stop pretty close to where it landed, but the ground is so firm that the ball continues to roll,” Watson said. “And many times, you had to hit the ball short of the green and the ball would take funny bounces with all the humps and bumps. I didn’t care for that and it took me a while to finally embrace it. One doesn’t have to like something to be successful and that was the way I looked at it.”

My game plan was simple. Keep it out of the bunkers. They are so treacherous.
Tom Watson
Golfer

But Watson’s finely tuned short game and excellent putting were well-suited to the Open courses, and he took full advantage. “My short game was primo,” he said. “That had a lot to do with me winning the Open.”

Of his Open Championship wins, Watson calls his 1977 win at Turnberry, Scotland, where he outdueled Jack Nicklaus by one stroke, as his top overall Open victory. “Tee to green, it was my best golf there,” he said.

The 1980 event at Muirfield in Scotland was Watson’s best effort with the flat stick as he beat Lee Trevino by four strokes in capturing his third Open at 13-under par. “I putted so beautifully there for four rounds,” Watson said. “My game plan was very simple. Keep it out of the bunkers. They are so treacherous at Muirfield. If you get in them, you can make double and triples. I wasn’t particularly hitting the ball great but I was putting my best ever.”

These days, the 69-year-old Watson plays a limited schedule on the PGA Tour Champions circuit and he plans to play in the Senior Open Championship at the U.K.’s Royal Lytham later this month. Though he turns 70 in September, Watson can still compete given that last month he shot his age in the first round of this year’s U.S. Senior Open.