The eight-time major champion points to an early victory as key to his success, acknowledges his heroes, and sets his sites on another sport
Most of the focus is on your eight major titles, but is there a victory that has meant just as much, if not more, to you? The one that really changed my life was winning the Kansas City Men’s Match Play. I beat all of the men at age 14, and it kind of solidified my belief—my dream—that I could be pretty good at this game and maybe play with the likes of my hero, Arnold Palmer.
Is there one shot that you’re most proud of from your career? Well, I always wanted to win the U.S. Open because my dad always said if you win the U.S. Open, you’ve beaten the best, but you also have won on the toughest golf course there is. So, I always focused on that particular tournament as the one I wanted to win the most. And when I chipped that lucky shot in at the 17th hole at Pebble Beach in ’82, I had to kind of point to that shot as a culmination of, again, another dream come true.
Byron Nelson took you under his wing. What was it like to spend time with him? The most important thing about Byron was the way he treated people. He was a man of his word. He had a great passion for the game, and underneath it all, he was a ham. He loved to show off his skills. I remember one time he was watching me do a junior clinic at Preston Trail during the Byron Nelson Classic. I said, well, kids, I’ve got a big surprise for you. I had Byron come on out and I gave him my driver. He was in his street shoes, and I said, all right, Byron, off the deck, hit this driver, one with a draw, one with a fade, and one straight. And sure enough, I mean, bang, bang, bang, a perfect shot each time.
Do you have a favorite quotation pertaining to golf? Yes, the one by Bobby Jones: “I never learned anything in victory; I learned only in defeat.”
That’s so true. You don’t learn as much as you do in defeat, the mistakes that you make, the situations that arise where you make poor judgments, and things like that that lead you on to being a better player—if you work at it, it becomes part of your makeup.
What’s your pet peeve? Slow play. I’ve never liked players who take what I consider too much time. But over the years I’ve become a bit more patient with them. Different people have different makeups and mannerisms. I realize I do things quickly, while other people are much more methodical.
At age 70, how much golf do you plan to play? I’m going to play four events in 2020, three on the PGA Tour Champions plus the tournament I started in Kansas City called the Watson Challenge for our general area’s best amateurs and pros.
How else will you spend your time? For a good 10 years, my wife [before she died on Nov. 27] was involved in cutting, which is a western-style equestrian event. She loved horses and the sport with a great passion, and I grew to love it myself. So that’s what I’ll be doing is continuing to try to improve as a rider. I’ve got a goal: I’ve got to pass Hal Sutton in lifetime earnings. Hal made $42,000 in lifetime earnings, and I’m about $18,000 behind, so my goal is to be the No. 1 PGA Tour golfer/cutter.
Do you have any plans to do more golf course design? I do. I’ve got a couple courses we’re trying to get started and get through the initial processes of getting approvals and things like that, so I’m looking forward to being a part of that, yes. One is in Ireland and a couple of them here in the U.S.
Is that something you feel you now have more time to do? Well, if it doesn’t interfere with my cutting schedule, yeah.