Links legend Tom Watson hopes to get even with the Old Course at St Andrews later this month when he returns to the Home of Golf for the first time since his final Open Championship appearance in 2015.
The American took what he thought was his final walk over the Swilcan Bridge when he bade an emotional farewell to The Open. However, that last competitive march was postponed with the announcement that The Senior Open Presented by Rolex would be played over the Old Course from July 26-29 this year.
Watson, who can’t wait for one last hurrah on a course he holds close to his heart but which has thwarted several attempts at Open glory, recalled that previous visit to St Andrews three summers ago.
New Open Championship Ambassador, who was grouped with Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker, finished his round under cover of darkness with a bogey five – a memory that the five-time Champion Golfer of the Year is keen to erase.
He said: “We were asked on the 17th tee whether we wanted to continue and I deferred to Ernie and Brandt. I said ‘you fellas are in this tournament. It’s your call; if you want to play, play. If you don’t want to, I’m good with that and I can finish tomorrow’.
“Without missing a beat, Ernie said: ‘I’m in. I’m playing’ and Brandt said the same thing.
“The Senior Open this year allows me to rectify my last hole of Open Championship golf. It was a pretty good drive, a shank and a three-putt for bogey. I’d like to get even with that just a little bit.”
The golfing superstar, a winner of eight Major Championships and six Senior Major Championships – including those three Senior Open victories, played a role in ensuring that the Senior Claret Jug would be contested on perhaps golf’s most famous course.
“The superlatives are sometimes overdone,” said Watson. “But you have to admit that having any tournament on the Old Course at St Andrews will be a really special event.
“It means a great deal to be able to play in The Senior Open at St Andrews for a variety of reasons; but the main reason is the history of the Old Course. It’s an iconic name, an iconic place and it’s a wonderful place to be for a tournament or without a tournament. St Andrews is a lovely town and I always enjoyed my time there.”
Despite being a name synonymous with links golf, Watson admitted he didn’t enjoy the Old Course at the first time of asking.
“I did not like the blindness with the bumps and humps and the bounces,” he said. “I played the ball through the air; that’s how I played at the beginning of my career and really through most of the successful part of my career. I played it very high and expected the ball to stop when it landed.
“On links courses, the ball is not going to stop very easily with firm conditions. I didn’t like that.
“It took me a while to embrace links golf when I first played it. It took about four years to finally get with it and about half a dozen years to really embrace the way it’s played on links. I talk to some pros and they never embraced it, they never liked playing links golf because of all the uncertainties that you face.
“Today, it makes me laugh. To get a good bounce from a bad shot or a bad bounce from a good shot, you have to accept it and just carry on.”
Watson will be one of a number of former Ryder Cup Captains teeing it up at this year’s Championship, joining Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, John Daly, Tom Lehman, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, José María Olazábal, Miguel Angel Jiménez and Ian Woosnam in the star-studded field.