Next week’s US Open at California’s Olympic Club got me to thinking about another Open … contested in 1982 at Pebble Beach. That championship, of course, was won by Tom Watson and has been carved into golf history because of “The Chip-In” on the 17th hole.
To help celebrate the 30-year anniversary of this Hall of Famer’s victory, I’m re-posting below my 2010 interview with Tom Watson.
I had the great privilege to interview Tom Watson at his Kansas City office. Several days prior to our meeting, I viewed Tom’s instructional DVD series, “Lessons of a Lifetime.” I consider myself somewhat of an expert on golf instruction books/videos/DVDs, having read/viewed enough of them to qualify as one of America’s most confused golfers. And I know I’m not alone. So take comfort, my fellow duffers, for Tom Watson’s “Lessons of a Lifetime” will clear your cobwebs and set you on the path to better golf. I took some of Tom’s lessons to the driving range and saw immediate improvements. If you’re a beginning golfer, this DVD is for you. If you’ve been struggling with the game for many years, this DVD is for you. With almost 3 hours of instruction in 44 chapters, Tom Watson presents golf instruction in an easy-to-understand fashion. And a portion of the proceeds from all sales will be contributed to the Bruce Edwards Foundation for ALS Research.
Tom Watson: Alright, Robert, what are we gonna talk about? You want to talk about “Lessons of a Lifetime?”
Golf Conversations: Absolutely. The title of the DVD – “Lessons of a Lifetime” – really resonated with me because I’ve been taking lessons for a lifetime.
TW: Me, too.
GC: Yes, but you took the right lessons. I started in ’93, the year you were captain of the Ryder Cup team. I began with Hogan’s book, then Tommy Armour’s book, then Sam Snead’s book, Al Geiberger, Jack Nicklaus. I was trying to learn how to play golf in a studio apartment in NY about 10 feet by 20 feet, hitting little plastic balls.
TW: How tall was your ceiling? Tall enough to swing a golf club?
TW: Well, that’s all you need. You’re like the Japanese. They learn their golf out of books and videos and driving ranges. They don’t get on golf courses.
GC: Well, that’s what I did. And, unfortunately, I got very confused.
TW: “Lessons of a Lifetime” is there to prevent you from being confused. The simplicity of it, from what I’ve been told, is the strength of it. Because you don’t get into technical descriptions of planes and things like that.
As technical as we got, I guess, was in “The Secret” chapter where we talk about the shoulder plane. And that’s kind of as technical as you want. Everything else was the way I was taught: word of mouth, somebody else’s eyes looking at me … or my eyes looking at them. Those are the lessons that I learned from either people … or from my own experience, trying to learn from somebody else. And that translates into pretty simple stuff.
GC: I received the DVDs on Saturday, four days ago. Watched them, went out to the driving range the next day …
GC: I don’t know what the protocol is … if it’s permissible to hug a multiple-major winner?
… it was fabulous, fabulous.
TW: Well, good. What did you change?
GC: I’m going to go into that. By the way, a few weeks ago, I was in Pinehurst at Pine Needles Lodge where I interviewed Peggy Kirk Bell.
TW: Yeah, she’s a wonderful lady.
GC: Lovely lady. We were talking about the grip. She reached into her jacket and took out a golf glove, put it on, and takes out a magic marker, like you do in your DVD.
TW: That’s what Stan does, Stan Thirsk.
GC: When I saw that I thought, “Hmmm.”
TW: That’s very visual.
GC: And the “OB” you wrote on the palm.
TW: Yeah, you don’t want the club there.
GC: That was great.
TW: I learned that from Stan, my long-time teacher.
GC: About your V’s, your thumb and forefinger. There’s never any space between them.
GC: I know you’re not supposed to have any space between them but does keeping them together promote tension?
TW: No, it’s the way the club goes in your hands that creates the position. If you put the club more perpendicular to your fingers, you’re gonna have a space in here. The more it’s diagonal across here – you have to have it slightly diagonal across your fingers in the left hand – that closes that space up.
GC: I think, all these years, I’ve been allowing a bit too much space. And when I saw your fingers in the close-up shots on the DVD, that was a wake-up call for me.
TW: Well, you’re getting to the essential part of learning the game. You first start with the grip on the golf club. I’d say 95% of golfers have bad grips. 95% in our country. Japan’s less.
GC: I wonder why that is.
TW: Because they’ve learned through not just going out and hitting balls on a golf course. They’ve learned through instruction and pictures. They’ve got some pretty darn good grips over there. For the most part. I look at their grips and think, “There’s another good Japanese grip …another one … another one … another one.”
GC: You played with that young kid…
TW: Ryo Ishikawa.
TW: But over the years that I’ve played in Japan, I’ve always admired the number of good grips I’ve seen on the amateurs with whom I’ve played.
GC: Well, the Japanese certainly have a grip on our auto industry.
When I saw that on your DVD, for me, that was very helpful.
TW: The grip is what I concentrate on a lot when I play with amateurs. I can usually help a slicer’s grip where the grip is too…
GC: Too much in the palm?
TW: No. Too weak in the left hand. Too weak where the left thumb is straight down the top of the shaft where you only see one knuckle. That’s a typical bad grip that you see. And they wonder why they slice. The centrifugal force with that type of grip opens the club face up unless you’re super strong, and you really rotate your left forearm. You want the action of the club head when you release it to the ball to be as natural as possible. You don’t want it to be forced in any way. You want gravity to help it. You want your hands to release into the club head with the proper grip, proper position in your hands, and it becomes automatic. You just don’t fail.
GC: Talking about “release,” that was another thing I enjoyed about your DVD. In the beginning, you had that explanation of terms.
GC: Release, target line, aim line.
TW: Mmmm-hhmm. Right.
GC: I think, too often, those terms are…
TW: They’re not explained. They don’t know what they really are. I like to be precise in trying to teach people … to have them understand what I’m trying to say. To have the correct terms there …when I’m talking about the aim line or the target line or the release of the golf club or the bottom of the arc.
TW: Incidentally, that’s going to be a key element in the book I’m coming out with next year.
GC: A book?
TW: It’s going to incorporate a lot of the stuff in “Lessons of a Lifetime.” But it has three or four additional ideas that I wanted to get into “Lessons of a Lifetime” after we did the production. And it was just going to cost too much. So we decided to follow this thing up with a book which incorporates this and also some things that are very, very important – I think – in making people understand what’s important, and what to try to obtain in the golf swing.
GC: The part in your DVD on the grip I enjoyed…
TW: Yeah, the grip is the start. And then, the other thing is your foundation … your body position so that you can swing in balance. If you start where you’re not in balance, you will not repeat the golf swing. You won’t repeat the bottom of the arc, if you’re not in balance. You have to start in balance. Again, a lot of people don’t start in balance. And I describe what that is, and show that in “Lessons of a Lifetime.” Fundamentally, you have to start somewhere before you teach the motion of the golf swing. And I did it in chronological order.
Terry Jastrow [editor’s note: Mr. Jastrow directed “Lessons of a Lifetime”] – he was a really good golfer himself. Loves the game. Just like you, he’s tried every new gimmick that there ever has been in the golf game. Like “Square to Square,” “Stack and tilt,” and all this stuff. Basically, it comes down to fundamentals.
You look at Snead’s book, you look at Armour’s book, you look at Hogan’s book. Not a whole lot more has to be explained than what’s in those books. I’ve explained it in terms of uneven lies … and added some other things. What I think is the most important thing is in “The Secret of the Golf Swing.” And that is, basically, keeping your head steady.
I don’t know if you’ve seen that teaching pro that came out with that video that’s on YouTube. He talks about how to swing the golf club.
GC: Which one is this?
TW: It’s about five minutes long. And he mentions every possible physics formula that you could possibly think of …
[Editor's note: Here is the YouTube video to which Tom just referred:]
TW: In terms of swinging the golf club. He does a beautiful job. He is just magnificent. And that’s how confused you got. And how confused people get. One of the simple things about a book – or the tips in Golf Digest – you have a one-page tip. You read that, you say, “You know what? I don’t do that. Let me try that.” But it’s just one thought. You go out and try one thought.
Your problem when you read these books, you try to put everything together, without hitting golf balls, in your New York apartment … and you don’t have somebody else’s eyes to say, “You’re not where you think you are.”
Or you don’t have a video system set up to show you you’re not where Tiger Woods’s swing plane is or Ernie Els’s swing. Video is a great teaching tool, a great teaching tool. If truth be known, those are wonderful teaching tools.
GC: The video?
TW: The videos. They have certain plane machines, where you put your club in an arc circle plane. You literally feel where the club should be because you’re laying it on the PVC pipe in a circle.
Actually, they use that to re-train the wounded warriors who come back with lost limbs from Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve seen that down in Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. These machines are very good for teaching these people balance again.
GC: That big circular PVC machine?
TW: You’re putting your body in motion, but your body has to stay stationary and rotate. It teaches good balance.
TW: Getting back to teaching, learning the game: a pair of eyes is always very good. Videos are really good if you understand what you’re trying to obtain. But getting back to one simple point: “I want one thing that’s going to help my golf swing.” And most of the time it’s the …?
(By pausing, Tom is asking me to complete his sentence.)
TW: The grip.
GC: Oh, getting back to the grip. Yes.
TW: It goes right back to the grip.
GC: Gene Sarazen said that was the most important part of the swing.
TW: Gene didn’t have his left thumb on the club.
GC: Really??? That I’ve never heard.
TW: Never had his left thumb on the club.
TW: But he had the club in the fingers. He could see two, two-and-a-half knuckles on his left hand.
GC: Why do you think he left his left thumb off the club?
TW: I don’t know.
GC: Interesting. Talking about the grip. That famous quote of Sam Snead’s: “you hold the club like you’re holding a live bird.”
GC: Firm enough to keep it from flying away but not so firm that you…
TW: He also said, “If people held their knife and fork like they hold the golf club, they’d go hungry.”
GC: Yes. Well that live bird image … that was very early on in my learning process.
GC: And it just shows you how difficult it is to describe feelings with words. I took that image of Mr. Snead’s the wrong way. I held the club so loosely that the club was wobbling in my fingers; it would turn over at impact. I took me years to …
TW: Understand the proper pressure. And I explain that in “Lessons of a Lifetime.” “Where are your pressure points in your hands?” And Hogan did it perfectly. He showed it with Tony Ravielli’s illustrations. The last three fingers of your left hand and the middle two fingers of your right. That’s where your pressure points are. And I talk about grip pressure with that drill…
GC: Where you hold the club vertically.
TW: As light as possible and then just lay it down right there. And that’s all the pressure you need. And you probably had less pressure.
That’s all the pressure you need to start the golf swing. Your right hand is going to naturally get tighter. Give me your right hand. (Tom takes my right hand into his.) This is what Roberto Di Vincenzo at the British Open said. He teaches people this: (Tom swings my arm back, then changes direction). Backswing, downswing. Backswing, downswing. Feel that? Feel the difference?
GC: Yeah, it naturally firms up on the downswing.
TW: It firms up, yeah. You’ve got to release the club head, so you’ve got to have more pressure on that club to create speed. That right hand does not stay as loose as it does on your backswing. You take it back loose, your hands are nice and flexible. But when you hit that ball, you’re adding power to it and you’re increasing your pressure all the way through impact.
GC: Didn’t Hogan say in his book that at impact he wished he had more right hands?
TW: He was a left-handed person. I teach people to play the way they throw a ball. If they throw a ball left-handed, play left-handed. If they throw the ball right-handed, play right-handed.
GC: By the way, the photography in your DVD was beautiful.
TW: Thank you.
GC: It looks great.
TW: Thanks to Terry Jastrow.
GC: And the graphics that show things like the aim line and the target line, those are all very helpful, especially to a beginner.
TW: Good. That’s the whole point. This is something that I wanted to leave as a legacy to my son, to my friends, to my Dad, to Stan, and all the people who helped me through my life as a golfer. And 20 years from now, or 100 years from now, it’s probably not going to change too much, depending on the equipment. There are certain fundamentals that I truly think are the proper way to do it.
GC: Well they helped me.
GC: And if you could help someone as confused as me … you can help a lot of people. Another thing that was in your DVD that I’d never heard of before was in the chapter on the grip … having that little space between the forefinger and the middle finger of the right hand.
GC: I tried that at the range and that worked very well.
TW: You don’t have to have any pressure at all … just that little space right there helps cradle the club up here…
TW: And helps stabilize it a little bit better in the downswing.
GC: That was great. Never read that anywhere. Where’d you get that one from? Was that something Stan taught you?
TW: I can’t remember where I learned that. It wasn’t from my dad. I don’t know. Maybe it was just from observation; seeing players like Snead grip it or Littler grip it. Maybe.
GC: Well, I hit the ball much better at the range just using that tip.
TW: Well. Good. If that’s all it takes, fine. You don’t even have to think about that during the swing.
TW: That’s where we want to get to. We want to get the swing to be auto-matic.
GC: We were talking about Sarazen saying the grip was the most important fundamental in golf. When you attended all those Masters dinners, did you and Mr. Sarazen ever talk about the grip?
TW: No, but I played with him with my dad.
TW: Yeah. Played with Gene and my dad in one of my early Masters … the Sunday before. That was a nice experience.
GC: He was still hitting the ball ok then?
TW: Yeah! Yeah, he could flush it!
GC: Here’s another nugget that I got from your DVD: in the stance – kicking in the right knee slightly.
GC: Again, that was something I’ve never heard of before. That also worked when I took it to the range.
TW: Kicking in the right knee is … I give a tip in “Lessons of a Lifetime” about putting a golf ball underneath the outside of your right foot and making some swings. That keeps you from sliding and it accentuates your hip turn. If it stops, it’s wrong. The hip goes back, your left knee collapses in to the ball. That should all be a result of your shoulder turn. If you don’t turn your shoulders properly, then your hips don’t turn properly.
The golf swing is a chain reaction, very simple. Left hand, left arm, left shoulder starts the club head away from the ball. The shoulders turn around your spine and then they turn back along the same plane on the downswing. But once your shoulders start turning and you’re in the proper posture, your hips have to turn. If you’re in the wrong posture, your hips might not want to turn. If you have too wide a stance, your hips aren’t going to turn.
GC: The last 30 years or so, golf instruction has been about restricting your hip turn. I’m sure you’ve read that.
TW: That’s ridiculous.
GC: Thank you.
TW: Like anything, you can do it too much. You can restrict your hip turn too much, you can over-turn your hips too much. It’s hard to turn your hips too much if you have your balance right in your feet. If you play from the insides of your feet, not flat on your feet, the insides of your feet on the backswing … your center of gravity remains in the middle of your feet. It doesn’t slide to the right, it doesn’t move back, it doesn’t move out over the ball. Then you’re gonna turn everything in the right order.
GC: That was the “turning in the barrel”?
TW: Turning in the barrel, that’s what I was taught by Paul Wyler. You turn your hips in a barrel. It’s really a result of your shoulder turn. Kids can turn their shoulders without turning their hips because they’re flex-ible. The older you are, you’re not that flexible, so don’t restrict your hip turn.
GC: I think Harvey Penick wrote that in one of his later books. He said you can’t turn your hips enough. And he wanted your left heel to come up on the backswing.
TW: Yeah, he let the left heel come up.
GC: And he said when you place the left heel down, that initiates the turning of the hips toward the target.
TW: What stops the backswing is the counter-rotation of your hips starting the downswing. And, of course, the result of that is that your left heel hits the ground.
GC: I always thought that your swing reminded me very much of Sam Snead’s swing.
TW: No, naahhh. Not even close.
GC: You have this beautiful rhythm: the left heel comes up, then down, boom and off you go. I’ve always admired your swing, always thought it was the most Snead-esque.
TW: Thank you.
GC: Ball position: in the DVD you talked about how Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller played most of their shots…
TW: From the same position…
GC: …Inside the left heel.
TW: Makes sense.
GC: Explain, please.
TW: You’re always trying to hit the ball first, with the exception of long clubs. I find that I have to play the ball forward and try to catch the ball slightly on the upswing of my arc. And the shorter the club gets, the more I go level with the 3-wood, but I still want to hit down on it a little bit. So that ball has to be coming back just a little bit in my stance. From the driver to the 3-wood; that’s the biggest change.
Then from a 3-wood to 5-iron, it goes back just slightly more because I want to have a little bit more of a descending blow with a 5-iron. And then with a pitching wedge, I want to have an even more descending blow. It doesn’t move back too much, maybe 3 inches.
GC: But this is one of the confusing things about golf instruction, especially if you’re a beginner…
TW: Yeah, which way do you do it?
GC: What do we do?
TW: I think you try to play it with as little difference as possible. You have to understand, though, driver, you’ve got to catch it off a tee – it’s teed up. You don’t want to be descending on a driver at all. And where is the bottom of the arc? If it’s proper, the bottom of the arc is just forward of center.
GC: A few months ago in Golf Digest, they had Bobby Clampett talking about his swing theory. He said you have to hit down on every shot, even the driver. Of course, everything I’ve ever read has said that the driver has to be hit on the upswing. I don’t understand how you can hit a driver with a descending blow.
TW: You can hit it on the downswing if you want. Olazabal probably hits it on the downswing a little bit. And drives the ball low. If he does it, and does it well, fine. I just find that I want a little bit more height from the ball and height with the driver is important. To hit that ball slightly on the upswing or level is very important to me.
GC: In your chapter about “The Secret” on the DVD, you talked about Corey Pavin’s practice swing in 1994. You said you were tired of hitting the ball to the right and you took his practice swing and tried to stop your “reverse C” swing. When you were Ryder Cup captain in 1993 and Corey was on your team, did you guys ever talk about…
TW: No. We talked about it afterwards. He heard that I was talking about my vision of his practice swing as helping me out. I said to him, “You did it because you wanted to keep your shoulders level; you didn’t want to get your shoulders tilted coming into the ball … tilted differently than they were at address.”
He said, “Exactly, that’s why I did the practice swing the way I did it.” And that’s why I did it, too, because I knew I was tilted … because of my divots and ball flight … and I just tried, what we call, “coming over the top.” Basically, keeping my right shoulder higher at impact. And as a result, that one move freed everything up as far as swinging a golf club properly.
GC: Amazing! Prior to that swing change, obviously, you were very successful.
TW: Yeah, I was, but I was always searching and looking for what Sam Snead called a “key” that was going to work that day. After I learned my secret, I didn’t have to look for any keys that were going to work that day. With the exception of when my shoulders might have been a little too high … so, I always referred back to that initial thought I had with Corey’s practice swing.
GC: How long did it take you to make that move work for you without thinking about it?
TW: Uh, three swings.
GC: Amazing. Because you hear how Tiger changes his swing and it takes him a few months…
TW: If you’ve hit 500 golf balls in a day and you do that three or four days, you should get it. Alright? You should get it. If you make a swing change and you see immediate results from it, that’s all you need.
GC: Three swings? Fabulous. Also from that chapter on “The Secret” … I loved that hanger in the ground training aid.
TW: Again, what’s the most common lesson given to players at a driving range?
GC: Uh, “keep your head still”?
TW: No, “Keep your head down.” “Down” is not right. “Still” is correct, keep your head still – that’s all that coat hanger drill is: keeping your head still.
GC: Now is it “still” or is it “steady”? Because there is a little bit of movement of the head, isn’t there?
TW: Your head will move. But as still as you can get. That means if you have the proper set-up position, you’re gonna hit the ball exactly where you started from.
It’s a chain reaction: if you have the proper grip and release the club at impact with a square clubface … where you have proper posture where you can turn and return and keep your head steady … then the club head is going to return every time at the same place!
GC: Again, it’s the language. If you’re trying to learn by reading books, and you read the word “still.” “Keep your head STILL.” “Still” to most people meets “frozen” and that can lead to tension and a reverse pivot. So “steady” is more descriptive than “still.” But that drill with the hanger, I’ve never seen that before.
[Editor’s note: this drill consists of straightening a wire hangar and forming a small circle on one end; the other end goes into the turf. You set up over the circle so you can see the golf ball by peering down through the circle. The drill consists of keeping the ball within the circle while you strike it. If the ball moves out of the circle in your backswing, you’ve not kept your head steady.]
TW: Have you tried it?
GC: I did try it and it didn’t work for me … because I used a wood hanger.
(no reaction from Tom at this lame attempt at humor)
Ok, ba-dump-bump. No, I haven’t tried it. Where did you get that one from?
TW: I don’t know. It was from somebody else.
GC: It’s a great idea.
TW: It’s pretty simple and it doesn’t cost anything except a dry cleaning charge.
GC: Tom, this could be a new infomercial product!
The most important lesson for me in your DVD was in “The Takeaway.” That was worth the price of admission … even though I didn’t pay for it.
TW: Most people overuse their hands on the takeaway. And what I tried to instill in them is keeping the club head outside the hands. That’s impossible to understand … you have to visually see it. Just for the first couple of feet in your takeaway … what that allows you to do, it lets your shoulders turn together. And then you’re getting very close to your final, top-of-the-backswing position.
If you overuse your hands in the backswing, you don’t turn properly with your shoulders. The club head is levered too much with the hands. And then you have to use a lot of hands coming back into the ball to square it up. This defines swinging the golf club, that first two feet of the takeaway.
You see it in Sam’s swing, Arnold’s swing, Jack’s swing … that club head was outside the hands for the first couple feet of the backswing. It wasn’t levered inside like Woods’ was … for the last couple of years when he was working with Haney. That club just got inside too quick and laid off in a convex position there.
You want to keep that club head outside there and once you get in your backswing … now the hands can hinge properly. If you rotate, you lose that slight cupping of the left hand and that goes convex, now where do you go? You have changed already the club face position. You’ve got to do something to make that club face get back to the original position, which is wrong.
GC: That little graphic that’s on the DVD where you talk about the importance of keeping the angle between the left arm and the club the same for the first few feet?
TW: Mmmm-hhmm. Yeah.
GC: That did it for me. I’ve read for a gazillion years that you want to have the toe of the club pointing up at waist level.
TW: No, you wanted it to point on the plane, you don’t want it pointed up. The toe should be getting to that point where it’s on the proper plane. I make a long swing so it takes my club longer to get to that proper position. Other people, they over-rotate there and then what do you do?
GC: That takeaway lesson…
TW: It promotes swinging the club head, like Ernest Jones’s book. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Ernest Jones.
GC: Of course.
TW: You swing it like a rock at the end of a string. And that’s essentially it. I teach people that a lot. I have to generalize and say most people overuse their hands away from the ball. They overuse their hands in levering the club away from the ball, rather than swinging.
Now you have to do that when your body doesn’t turn very well. That’s when you have to use your hands more. If you’re older, if you’re arthritic, you have to get up there and use your hands more.
GC: The chapter on the takeaway was helpful to me and it will be helpful to beginning golfers. Because no one really talks about the specifics: they say swing it up, turn your shoulders. But your takeaway instructions are very precise.
TW: You can check your position on the backswing: the butt handle should be on your ball line. That means the rest of your golf swing is going to come back down on your plane. And on the follow through, the same thing: you want that butt handle to finally get to that ball line. If that butt handle never gets to it, the ball’s going to go right every time.
GC: Ok, let’s get to hooking and fading.
TW: Yep. My dad taught me that when I was six years old.
GC: That’s always confused me because you read about all these different ways of doing it and you wonder is one better than the other?
TW: Pick your poison.
GC: Thank you. That’s what I enjoyed about your DVD: you showed three…
TW: Three different ways of hooking it and basically one way to slice it.
GC: So again, I enjoyed that; that was helpful. I’m coming from this from the point of view of a lousy, beginning golfer, so this is really very enlightening. So you’re doing great stuff there.
TW: Oh, good.
GC: Now, when you go to the driving range. Not your driving range but a typical driving range with the rock-hard balls they use. Can you hook and fade those kinds of golf balls?
GC: You can? So you can go practice that at your local range. You don’t have to use Pro V1s to…
GC: Ok. When you demonstrated the high and the low shots, is it possible to also hook and fade high and low shots?
TW: Yes. Sure is.
GC: Uneven lies: another winner. I’ve always heard that you align your body with the slope, whether it’s uphill or downhill.
GC: What I’ve never heard until I saw your DVD, was that you need to kick in your left knee on a downhill lie…
GC: … and kick in the right knee on an uphill lie. Never heard that before!
TW: Because you are out of balance with gravity there. And you have to stabilize your lower body both ways.
GC: Yes! How do you do that? Well, this tells you, which is great. Fabulous stuff.
GC: This is like second nature to you but to me it’s like a revelation: “Oh, man, so that’s what I’ve been doing wrong!” In my uphill shots, I’ve been leaning into the hill too much. And not carrying the club low enough to the hill on the backswing. My club has been too vertical, and I was leaning into the hill too much and I was wondering why I was always having problems with that.
TW: I don’t drive my legs like I used to. It’s a lot easier: you kick that right knee in on an uphill shot. The toughest thing to do is to make that move ‘cause you’re out of balance. You’ve got to make a positive move into the ball. When you’re hitting on the upswing like that, your right knee is braced in there and stays braced but it’s got to move toward the ball. It can’t stay stationary on the upswing. And I don’t have that ability as well now as I used to. So I have to force myself – actually, I have to make a conscious effort to move my right knee toward the ball on the upswing on an uphill lie. Downhill lie is no problem because you’re using gravity there to help you as the club head comes down. On an uphill lie, you’re not using gravity. You’re swinging against gravity.
GC: Ok, “Adding Distance to your Drives.” Do the same hooking and fading techniques that you demonstrated with the irons work with the driver?
TW: Yes. Yes, they do. And the only way you can add distance is to swing your arms faster. And the only way you can do that is to create more centrifugal force. And there’s one way of doing that: that’s to turn your shoulders a little bit more so you have a little bit more time for gravity to help speed up your arms.
GC: Chipping. You have that demonstration of distance control where you use three different clubs…
TW: Right. Yep. That’s a good drill. That’s a good drill for people to practice with three different clubs.
GC: You showed how the balls ran out at different distances with the different clubs.
TW: Again, that’s very simple stuff for an advanced golfer: “Oh, I know that.” But for a beginning golfer: “What club do I use?” That’s why I put that in there.
GC: And they all grab the lob wedge for the most part when they chip.
TW: Well, I show what happens when you hit a sand wedge off an upslope.
GC: Again, when you’re doing that drill … let’s say you use a Pro V1 when you play … but you’re practicing with Surlyn balls at the range. Is a Surlyn ball going to run out the same as a Pro V1?
TW: Oh, about the same. Yeah, that’s not going to change too much.
GC: Ok, fairway bunker shots. Another interesting Watson nugget here. You say to play the shot with your normal ball position.
GC: I’ve always heard/read that when you play a fairway bunker shot, you play it slightly back in your stance and take a little more club. So that was an interesting revelation to play from your normal ball position.
TW: Yeah. Well, if you’re making a proper swing, and the bottom of the arc is hitting down on the ball, it shouldn’t be a problem.
GC: Yes, I always had a problem with playing the ball further back because now I’m trying to pick the ball out of the sand and I’m making an unnatural swing. So thanks for that one … and all the beginners thank you, too.
TW: And keeping your head steady is very important in a fairway bunker shot.
GC: And that reminds me of your fantastic fairway bunker shot in the 1998 Colonial.
TW: Yeah! That was a good one!
GC: That was a good one! Ok. Putting. Do you characterize your putting as straight-back-straight-through … or inside-to-square-to-inside?
TW: I always putted my best when I kept the club face really square to the ball. Both on the back swing and the follow through. I’ve toyed with opening the toe and closing the toe. I don’t like that. I like developing a stroke where you keep that club face looking at the ball the best you can on the arc. The arc is not vertical. It goes slightly inside. I think the putter head going through needs to stay on the line; I don’t think it needs to toe over. I think it needs to stay on the line. I think that’s good putting.
GC: So is it straight back and then straight through?
TW: No. It starts straight back but again, you’re not vertical. For a short stroke, it is … I can’t quantify it … but a short stroke is straight back and straight through. You can make that happen.
But a longer stroke, the club head – just like your normal swing – it comes along an arc. If you have to describe it in physics terms … you have an arc – it goes inside to inside. It doesn’t go straight back and straight through. Now some people do that; you can make that happen with your shoulders. That’s what I used to try to do, because I had my hands very high and I could keep that club going straight back and straight through. The lower your hands, the more it has to rotate.
GC: So you go back inside…
TW: The longer the stroke … the club face should always stay perpendicular to your arc. The toe does not open along your arc and doesn’t close along that arc. I think you ought to try to keep it going at your target line. That’s what I think. Putting is individual; I like keeping that club face as square to the line as possible. We play fast greens – you don’t have to make long strokes to putt on fast greens.
GC: Did you ever consider Sam Snead’s side-saddle putting method?
TW: No. Nor did I consider the long putter.
GC: Why do right-handers dislike left-to-right putts? I’ve never quite understood that.
TW: I don’t know.
GC: What about the pre-shot routine; is that something you think is important?
TW: I talked about the target line and aiming. That’s your pre-shot routine; if you can do that, that’s fine. Getting behind the ball and hitting that ball over a point like Nicklaus does, that’s all the pre-shot routine you need.
You’ve got to aim it with the club face. You’ve got to learn how to do that; a beginner has no clue. “Where do I aim it? Is the club face square?” How do you determine whether the club face is square? You see people play with a closed club face and an open club face. But then they make an adjustment in their swing to try to get their club face back to square.
GC: I’d like to ask you some general questions now, in no particular order.
TW: Sure, go right ahead.
GC: When Byron Nelson and Sam Snead and Ben Hogan played the tour in the 40s and 50s, there were no yardage markers, no yardage books, no 150-yard stakes. They just looked and trusted their eye sight…
TW: Sam said, “If I had yardages back then, I would have won 60 more tournaments.”
TW: Yep. ‘Cause you make mistakes.
GC: You met Mr. Nelson at the 1974 US Open?
TW: I actually met him prior to that. He came up to me at the ’74 Open and consoled me after I shot 79 in the last round. He said, “If you ever would like to work with me on your golf swing, feel free to call.”
GC: Isn’t that nice? Was there anything specific he wanted to help you with?
TW: No. Not then.
GC: And you went down to his ranch in Texas?
GC: Did he have you branding cattle and digging post holes in exchange for lessons?
TW: No. He was a woodworker. We spent some time in his wood shop. He bogeyed a few times there, he cut off his thumb one time.
He cut his thumb and he cut off part of his middle finger on his right hand, I think it was.
GC: The new grooves rule that’s in effect this year – how has that affected you?
TW: It hasn’t seemed like it’s affected me very much at all. I’ve seen a few flyers but not as much as the old flyers. It has to do a lot, I think, with the turf we’re playing out of. We played in different turf in the 70s and the 80s before the square grooves came in and you really did hit some shooters.
And I was a picker of the ball; I didn’t hit down on the ball so much. I could hit the ball high so … I didn’t hit as many flyers as some people who hit down on it really hard.
GC: How would you compare today’s equipment with what you used when you started playing?
TW: It’s much more forgiving. You don’t have to hit the ball precisely in the center of the club head anymore to get the maximum distance out of the club.
GC: All of today’s players who grew up with perimeter-weighted drivers and irons … how do you think they would do with persimmon woods?
TW: I don’t think there would be any difference.
GC: Mr. Nicklaus believes the ball is going too far…
TW: I agree. It should be dialed back about 10%.
GC: Would that be for just tournament play or for everyone?
TW: I think everyone. Our courses have become too long.
GC: Did you ever meet Ben Hogan?
TW: I had lunch with him one time.
GC: Was that at Shady Oaks?
TW: Shady Oaks, right. I had the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions. One question was: “How nervous did you get?” He said, “Tom, I got so nervous I was jumping out of my skin.” And this comes from “The Ice Mon.”
GC: Wow. “The Wee Ice Mon.”
TW: “The Wee Ice Mon.” It confirmed what I thought: every player gets nervous. Every player. Doesn’t matter the quality of the player.
GC: Did you ever see that video of him on YouTube where he talks about his early days?
GC: If you Google “Ben Hogan,” it’s very interesting.
GC: Was Mr. Hogan at any of those Masters dinners that you…
TW: Yes, he was. At the ’78 Masters dinner, he presented me – he was kind of the master of ceremonies there along with Byron – and he presented me with the pin that I received for winning the previous year’s Masters.
GC: Mr. Snead, I believe, was known for his salty language?
TW: Yeah. He was always full of jokes, many of them off-color, but he was always fun to be around. I always took time to watch him hit golf balls because it made me better. I learned through osmosis, essentially. I always swung the golf club better when I re-started my practice session after watching Sam practice.
GC: I still watch him now on Golf Channel when he plays the celebrities in Hollywood.
TW: Yeah. Well, he learned his swing from Bobby Jones, watching Bobby Jones. And you could see the similarity in rhythm in both players.
GC: He was beautiful, just beautiful.
GC: Did Mr. Nelson, at these Masters dinners when Mr. Snead was making these salty jokes – I know he was a very religious man – was he offended?
TW: That’s none of your business.
GC: Ok. What prompted you to make psychology your major at Stanford?
TW: It was something that just interested me.
GC: The sand wedge that you chipped in with at 17 at Pebble Beach, where is it?
TW: It’s at The Greenbrier right now, displayed in the clubhouse there.
GC: You’re much loved in Scotland. Did you ever think you might want to move there or live there?
TW: No! I loved playing there but I love my home here.
GC: How often do you practice?
TW: I practice when I have to get ready for a tournament. That may be two weeks prior, may be a week prior. But I don’t practice every day anymore. I don’t do that like I used to. And one of the reasons, simply, is I figured out the golf swing through “The Secret.”
Usually, I can get my golf swing pretty well tuned up very quickly. Sometimes there are weeks or months that I struggled some. This summer, I struggled a little bit, but I think I corrected it a little bit by going back to some of the fundamentals that I’d forgot.
I was over-doing and it got ingrained and I had some consistency problems. But I practice my short game the most because that’s where it leaves you. My chipping and my putting. If I don’t play a lot, my chipping and putting is where I practice the most. I’ve learned that; I advise that. That’s where you score. The reason the pros are pros is that they’re so much better than amateurs in getting the ball up and down. So much better.
GC: It’s night and day.
TW: When they miss a green, it’s well over 50/50 getting it up and down. An amateur, it’s 20%.
GC: I think it’s less than that. After all of these years of playing golf, is it still fun for you?
TW: I love it. I do.
GC: That’s great.
TW: That’s what I am: I’m a golfer, that’s what I am. That has defined me. My profession has defined me in a lot of ways.
GC: Do you ever play recreational golf?
TW: Sure, I’m going to play today.
GC: Unfortunately, I can’t join you.
TW: Well, you weren’t invited.
GC: There you go! If you hadn’t been a professional golfer, what would you have done?
TW: I don’t know, I don’t really know.
GC: Ok, do you do email, smartphones, texting?
TW: Yeah. I don’t Tweet and I’m not on Facebook. But I have a website: www.TomWatson.com. We sell “Lessons of a Lifetime” through my website and Amazon. And they can get it at certain retail sports stores around the country.
GC: Your opinion of the recent trend of Ryder Cup captains having all these assistant captains?
TW: I don’t think it’s necessary. And the reason is that captains don’t have too much responsibility except as an organizer. The only good it does is that you’re allowed as a captain, to advise your players on what clubs to hit. You’re not allowed that in normal stroke play competition. But the rules allow you in match play competition for the captain to see what the other players hit on the par 3. You can tell another team member that Nicklaus hit a 7-iron on a par 3, and that gives you a little bit of a heads up. And the psychological value is important; I tried to keep it humorous and as loose as possible because the pressure is really, really high.
GC: Do you feel more nervous at a Ryder Cup event than a major?
TW: Yes. Yes, I do. Yes, I do. You have no control as a captain, so I was most nervous. As a player, you’re nervous but then once you get into the competition, it’s just like playing football: the first hit in football, you lose all that nervousness and now you’re just playing the game.
GC: Your take on the current state of the golf industry?
TW: It’s really struggling right now. Really struggling, I think. Sales of golf equipment, golf course development. Golf course development was part of the bubble that couldn’t last. You couldn’t keep building golf courses with the sole reason of flipping real estate. You have to build golf courses because people want to go and live there. You can’t build golf courses where the real estate is the play and you’re flipping lots. And nobody’s building homes. And a lot of that was going on.
GC: When you birdied the 18th hole at the 1982 US Open at Pebble Beach, you turned around and threw your ball into Carmel Bay. Did you ever regret throwing that ball away?
TW: No, because that’s what I always do at 18 at Pebble Beach: “Thank you for not taking my ball, now I’m giving it to you.”
GC: So you’re not interested in financing a kind of “Raise the Titanic” expedition to look for that ball?
TW: It’s probably not there anymore.
GC: What was on the menu for the two Masters dinners you hosted?
TW: Their standard menu. There were no special requests.
GC: When you played with Sam Snead – I know he liked to gamble – did you have a little something going on to make it interesting?
TW: I didn’t play too much with Sam in the practice rounds.
GC: About Augusta – by the way, I thought you did very well the last two years broadcasting at the British Open.
TW: Thank you.
GC: About broadcasting … Augusta National has always had their little pet peeves about language: you can’t say “fans,” you have to say “patrons.” You can’t say “the front nine” and “the back nine.” You have to say “the first nine” and “the second nine.” I always thought that was a little silly. There’s nothing vulgar or obnoxious about saying “fans,” is there?
TW: They like it done a particular way – they ask CBS to do it a particular way. I don’t see any problem with that.
GC: One last question: do you have a particular diet and exercise regimen that you follow?
TW: I don’t have a consistent diet regimen. But I try to keep as much vegetables and fruits in my diet as possible. Growing up in the Midwest, steak has always been part of the menu, but I eat all kinds of other things. My palate has been expanded from world travel. Eating things in Japan – eating octopus for the first time, sushi for the first time … that was strange in the beginning. I didn’t particularly like it but I didn’t not like it. I learned to acquire a taste for it. Now I do like it.
GC: It’s not Arthur Bryant’s. [Editor's note: Arthur Bryant's is a famous barbecue restaurant in Kansas City.]
Thank you for your time. It was a pleasure to meet you.
TW: Robert, very good.
GC: I would be remiss if I didn’t say that everyone I know admires you for your charitable work, the way you uphold the traditions of the game…
TW: I’m just doing the same things that people … I’ve learned from people doing that, too.
GC: Well, golf fans appreciate it.
TW: You always try to help people that are less fortunate the best way you can. Give them a hand up.
GC: Well you’re much admired in the golf world.
TW: Thank you. I smell barbeque.
(I give Tom a package of Arthur Bryant’s barbeque sauce)
You got this right at Arthur’s didn’t you?
GC: Of course I did, I was there last night.
TW: I can smell the smoke on the package. That’s great. Thank you.
GC: Could I trouble you for a photo or two?
GC: Perhaps someone could take a picture of the two of us because no one will believe I was actually here.
GC: Let’s get “Lessons of a Lifetime” in the photo.
(Tom’s assistant takes a few photos of us and we examine them.)
TW: That’s a good one.
GC: It even looks like you.
TW: And it looks like you! Thanks again for this, Robert.
GC: You’re welcome.
- Tom Watson & Robert Blumenthal
- June 8, 2012 postscript:
- Tom Watson Productions conducted a survey in April 2012 of golfers — high handicappers to golf professionals — who purchased “Lessons of a Lifetime.” They received over 1,500 responses and learned the following:
- 88% said the DVDs improved their game.
- 79% rated the DVDs excellent.
- 71% said the DVDs were the best instruction program ever.
Comments from those responding to the survey included:
- “By far the most professional work I’ve ever seen on the subject of golf. Mr. Watson’s insight and approach to dissecting the game is evolutionary.”
- “Reaffirming the basic fundamentals with Tom Watson eliminated uncertainties I had acquired after years of developing bad habits. Hearing Tom explain it has given me back the confidence I have been missing.”
- “This program was very clear and easy to understand. I would recommend it to any level golfer.”
- I have purchased several instructional video lessons during my golfing lifetime; Tom’s is by far the best.”
- “Well produced. Clear, concise and timeless instruction.”