CARMEL, Ind. — Tom Watson learned two lessons during his latest trip to Britain: Finish strong and don’t eat Chinese food.
If he follows both rules this week, the 59-year-old British Open runner-up might leave Crooked Stick Golf Course with his first U.S. Senior Open title.
“This is the one I want the most,” Watson said. “I’ve been pretty close a couple of times. A couple of times, I’ve been right there and I sure would like to have this one.”
Who could question the revitalized Watson after his last two tournaments?
He came within an eight-foot putt of winning his sixth British Open at Turnberry two weeks ago, an inspirational performance that still has Watson’s colleagues offering congratulations.
Last week, at the Senior British Open, Watson rallied with a final round 67 to tie for eighth.
Now, after two weeks overseas, Watson has returned to his home country to play in a third straight major. Yes, the British performances jump-started Watson’s game, but the food clearly did not. Watson skipped his first practice round Tuesday because he was ill.
“They have a saying over there that you don’t eat Chinese food in the U.K., and it didn’t quite agree with me,” he said. “I’m kind of down in the dumps right now. My body is.”
Watson hopes to make it onto the par-72, 7,316-yard course, the longest in Senior Open history, on Wednesday though the delay has already put him at a disadvantage.
He arrived in Indianapolis on Monday, hoping to complete at least two practice rounds on a course that has hosted the PGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Solheim Cup in previous years. Watson played it in 1991 when John Daly won the PGA title but doesn’t remember much about the course.
Plus, he’s contending with jet lag and a sickness that have caused other complications.
“It wouldn’t be so difficult if the USGA and R&A got together and maybe had a week in between,” Watson joked. “With the travel schedule, that puts a burden on your body. For instance, I go over to the British Open and I go five days in advance of the first round. That’s a minimum amount of time that I like to spend get my body used to the time change. I’ve been over there two weeks, and now I’ve got late afternoon times here.”
Still, Watson has been the headline attraction among a star-studded cast at Crooked Stick. Included in the 156-player field are three-time U.S. Open champ Hale Irwin, two-time Masters winners Ben Crenshaw and Bernhard Langer, two-time British Open winner Greg Norman and two-time PGA champ Dave Stockton.
But Watson is the fan favourite.
At Turnberry, he blew a chance to become the oldest major winner in golf history. After missing the putt, he wound up losing to Stewart Cink in a four-hole playoff.
His senior tour colleagues were more impressed by Watson’s overall performance and greeted him with congratulatory remarks that Watson called “pretty cool.”