Tom Watson talks about course design, famous chip

Tom Watson owns one of the most impressive playing resumes in the history of golf.

He's won eight major titles -- five British Opens, two Masters and one U.S. Open -- which puts him behind only Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen, Gary Player and Ben Hogan.

Watson also is accomplished as a golf course designer and in captivating a congregation of any size with stories.

Clad in a red plaid coat, he gathered a crowd Sunday evening at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, where he and fellow members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects met for their annual formal dinner. He discussed golf history, golf architecture and the future of the game with the Times Free Press.

Watson has been fascinated with golf every year he can remember since his birth in 1949. He designed his first course as a fourth-grader in Kansas.

"I drew it out on old Big Chief tablet paper and I was basically trying to design holes that were impossible," said Watson, who is a second-year member of the ASGCA. "I started at age 9, and I had no other inspiration other than I loved the game of golf."

The jewels for Watson and his design firm include the Links at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, the National Golf Club of Kansas City and The Old Course at Ballybunion in Ireland.

"The thrill of being a golf course designer is having people who play your course want to come back and play it again and again," Watson said. "If you can make that happen, then you've accomplished your goal as a designer."

Watson's design theory revolves around beauty and playability for both high-handicappers and professionals. He leans toward making his courses enjoyable for everybody by adding extra teeing grounds and casually sloped greens.

"The most important thing is that they enjoy the experience," Watson said. "You just can't make it too tough. You shouldn't do that."

He wants golfers to enjoy every minute of their time on his courses.

"You can't make the greens too tough," Watson said. "You don't want the green to have too much slope or be too fast unless you slow up the greens."

Cutting greens at a higher length is a concept Watson endorses, because there could be more contours and slopes on greens if they were mowed to a different level.

"It's my contention that we ought to slow up the greens to where they were a 5 or 6 on the Stimpmeter and you could have severe greens," Watson said. "I don't like a flat green. I think our green speeds have gotten too fast and we can't put honest contours in the greens that you have fun playing anymore."

There's one story Watson has told more than a time or two -- maybe two thousand -- in the past three decades.

He chipped in for a birdie from wispy rough behind the 17th green at Pebble Beach on the 71st hole to beat Nicklaus in the 1982 U.S. Open.

It's one of the most memorable golf shots since the sport has been shown on television. In fact, the GolfChannel ranked it No. 2 on its list of greatest shots to win a major behind Gene Sarazen's double-eagle on No. 15 to win the 1935 Masters.

"I was even with Nicklaus. I hooked a 2-iron on 17, I walked off the tee and tell my caddie Bruce [Edwards], 'That's dead,' and he said, 'No, it isn't. Get it up and down,'" Watson related Sunday. "I walked up, saw I had a decent lie, I grabbed a sand wedge, and Bruce put the bag down. He said, 'Get it close.'

"I said, 'Hell, I'm going to hole it.' I took a few practice swings, then holed it and ran halfway to Japan and pointed at Bruce and said, 'I told you I was going to hole it.'"