Family Support Elementary to Watson's Game

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dad hugged son. Son hugged back. Neither wanted to let go. Neither did for about two minutes.

"Way to go, dad," son said.

"How about that," dad returned.

Smiles all around.

Separated only by a thin yellow cord, this was a moment the Watson family from Mission Hills, Kan., will not soon forget.

On vacation, Michael Watson, 9, and Meg Watson, 12, were watching their famous father, Tom Watson, 42, play an entire round of golf for the first time.

Watson--the older one, that is--had just "slam-dunked" a 50-foot birdie putt on the par-four, 453-yard hole No. 7 on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

Having started on the back nine, this was Watson's 16th hole, his fourth consecutive birdie, his ninth of 10 birdies overall, and he soon finished Thursday's first round of the 1992 Buick Invitational in a three-way tie for first at 63 with one of the best rounds in the tournament's 40-year history.

"Michael and Meg were my good luck charms today," said Watson, whose nine-under score tied the South Course record set by Tommy Nakajima in 1984. "That's the first time they walked the full 18 holes.

"I sure hope they don't expect daddy to make 10 birdies every round. But if that's the fact, I might have to bring a private tutor out here and have them follow me every time."

Watson is a six-time PGA player of the year. He has won five British Opens, two Masters, a U.S. Open and 29 other PGA Tour events, including this one in 1977 and 1980. He is second on the career money list at nearly $6 million, and he is the new playing captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Though he hasn't won since 1987, he knows all about pressure. Or so he thought.

"I think I put a little pressure on myself to play well in front of my kids," said Watson, whose previous best round was a 62. "It was different. I was very aware that they were out there. But it was nice. I think they had a good time. I know I had a good time. It has been a long, long time since I had a round like that.

"Maybe they were the reason. Maybe they helped me to relax and not think about my score and my swing so much.

"I wanted to play well in front of them, and I'm glad I had a good round for them. I think I spoiled them."

Indeed. Michael and Meg might never see such a splendid round look so effortless.

Watson, a terrific short player, said he had one of his better days driving in a long time, and his chipping and putting weren't bad, either. Aside from one bogey on his seventh hole (No. 16), which dropped him to two-under, he was never really in trouble on Torrey Pines' tougher and longer course.

Watson, who said his longevity on the tour is his biggest strength, did not need a score card to show him he was playing well. All he had to do was watch his family.

"I don't know how many hot dogs and Cokes and other things they ate out there," Watson said. "At the beginning, they certainly got their fill. But when it got exciting, I don't think they hit the stands so much.

"Especially Michael. He was really into it. I slam-dunked a putt at No. 7. It was going way too fast, but it hit the center of the hole and went in for a birdie.

"Michael comes over to me and gives me a big hug, grabs me. That was kind of nice."

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