Tom Watson is one of the most enduring professional golfers since the late Sam Snead. In 2009, nearing his 60th birthday, he led the British Open much of the way before losing in a playoff. It was the feel-good sports story of the year, and will be talked about for as long as games are played and reported.
That stunning performance led to a revised British Open age limits that exempts him for at least five more years at the world’s oldest major championship. Watson has won it five times among his eight PGA Tour majors in a career further notable for memorable victories over Jack Nicklaus, golf’s best ever, on the biggest stages.
Watson won 39 times on the PGA tour with an aggressive, fast-paced style. Six times he was PGA Player of the Year, five times the leading money winner. Playing mostly on the over-50 Champions Tour now, he has won 13 more times there including five senior majors.
Watson was born in 1949 in Kansas City, Missouri, and has stayed, true to the Midwest’s solid values. He lives today on a farm outside Kansas City, and can be found doing chores and riding his wife’s cutting horses when he’s not on tour (he admits to falling off a horse only twice).
His father Ray, a long time scratch player, introduced him to golf at age 6. A young Tom soon developed into a state amateur champion at age 17, and went on to play for Stanford University, earning a degree in psychology in 1971. He joined the PGA Tour that same year and won his first tournament, the Western Open, in 1974. After losing leads in both the 1974 and 1975 U.S. Opens, Watson had the reputation of a choker, which was broken following his break-through year in 1977, where he won both the Masters and the British Open.
At the 1977 British Open, often referred to as the “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry, Tom played the final two rounds in 65-65 to Jack’s 65-66, finishing with a clinching birdie. It’s been called the Tournament of the Century. In Watson’s 1982 U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach, he holed a touchy chip shot from the greenside rough to birdie the 71st hole—arguably one of the greatest pressure shots ever—and then birdied the 18th to top Nicklaus.
After competing as part of the U.S. Team in the 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1989 Ryder Cups, Watson captained the 1993 U.S. Ryder Cup team through a closely contested tournament, pulling out the victory from behind in Sunday’s singles match.
Throughout his career, Watson has been a respected sportsman and spokesman for the sport. He received the U.S. Golf Association’s prestigious Bob Jones Award for distinguished sportsmanship in 1987 and was elected to the PGA World Golf Hall of Fame the following year. In addition, Watson won Golfer of the Decade for the 1980’s, celebrating his 19 wins and 86 top-10 finishes over the decade.
For 25 years Watson hosted the Children’s Mercy Golf Tournament, a benefit golf event featuring famous participants like Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino in his hometown of Kansas City, with proceeds going to a local children’s hospital. Over the 25 years, the tournament donated over $12 million to the hospital.
In addition to Watson’s fundraising and volunteerism for the children’s hospital, he has also been tremendously influential in Clubs for Kids, which began in the 1980’s and was the precursor for The First Tee of Kansas City, for which Watson is the Chairman of the Advisory Board.