Chipping Away at History : Tom Watson’s Winning Shot in 1982 U.S. Open Is Not Likely to Be Repeated
Tom Watson recalled that he was staying at The Lodge at Pebble Beach five or six years after he had won the U.S. Open there in 1982.
It was late and he had just finished dinner with some friends when an idea occurred to him.
“Does anybody want to try the shot?” he asked suddenly.
Nobody had to ask him what he meant by “the shot.” It is one of the most famous shots in golf history, more significant because it was accomplished in a major tournament at the expense of a legend.
When Watson approached the par-three 17th hole in 1982 in the final round, he was tied for the lead with Jack Nicklaus, who had finished his round.
Watson’s tee shot went over the green and settled in long, thick rough, about 16 feet uphill from the hole.
It seemed that he would be fortunate to save par; a bogey was more likely.
“I didn’t have an impossible lie, but I had to take an awkward stance because I was on a down slope,” Watson recalled.
“My caddie (Bruce Edwards) said, ‘Get it close.’ I said, ‘Hell, I’m going to sink it.’
“I thought if I could get my shot on line it would hit the pin and go in. That’s the way I envisioned it.”
He popped the ball out of the rough with his sand wedge and, as he had envisioned, the ball hit the pin dead center and went into the hole for a birdie.
Looking back, Watson said: “If the ball doesn’t hit the pin, it goes five or six feet past. I wouldn’t want that shot again to make a par.”
After jogging around the 17th green and pointing to his caddie as if to say, “I told you so,” Watson went on to birdie the 18th hole for a two-shot victory over Nicklaus and his only Open victory.
Asked what Nicklaus told him after the round, Watson replied: “He said, ‘You did it to me again.’ ”
That was in reference to Watson’s previous victories over Nicklaus in major tournaments, including the 1977 Masters and British Open.
Watson: “Then Jack added, ‘I’m really proud and happy for you.’ That was typical Jack Nicklaus: the epitome of what a champion should be.”
That Nicklaus, seeking his fifth Open victory, was in shock is an understatement.
Nicklaus, watching Watson on television at the 17th, said: “I saw him hit the first one (his tee shot) and didn’t see him hit the chip shot, but I saw him running around. I thought he must have lipped out. I can’t believe anyone could have holed it.”
Bill Rogers, Watson’s playing partner, was equally stunned:
“I could have stood there with 100 balls and pitched them all at the hole from where he was and not gotten any of them in.”
Added Nicklaus: “Make that 1,000.”
Now, fast forward to that night five or six years later when Watson challenged friends to duplicate “the shot.”
After some wine with dinner and champagne afterward, Watson and his friends trooped out to the 17th green.
“There were floodlights shining over the 18th green and fairway to illuminate the beautiful finishing hole,” Watson said. “We thought we might be able to see the 17th hole, but the lights were 500 yards away. It was not nearly light enough to see anything.”
So balls were placed in the rough where it was believed Watson made his chip shot in 1982.
“I hit first and sculled the ball across the green,” Watson said. “It was a wonder we weren’t run off the course by security.”
As for the original chip shot, the one that gave Watson his seventh major championship, he said: “I still think about it. It was the highlight of my career.”
Watson returns to Pebble Beach this week to compete again in the U.S. Open championship.
He has not won on the tour since 1987, and his last major victory was in the 1983 British Open.
Watson came close, though, to winning another major tournament when he was tied for the lead with Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal going to the last hole of the 1991 Masters.
However, Watson made a double bogey at No. 18; Olazabal had a bogey and Woosnam won with a par.
Watson, 42, is familiar with Pebble Beach. He played there while a student at Stanford. He has participated in the regular Pebble Beach tournament 21 times with victories in 1977 and 1978 and nine top-10 finishes. He still holds the tournament record, a 72-hole score of 273 in 1977.
Watson also recalled less memorable years.
“I had a chance to win the tournament in 1975,” he said. “It was windy and I got off to a bad start in the final round, and it got worse. I had an eight on the last hole and finished with an 81.”
Still, “any time you have won on a course, it gives you a feeling of confidence,” he said. “Any time you have played a course 50 times, compared to someone who has played it 20 times, you have the advantage of playing under a variety of conditions.
“The only negative is that we haven’t played Pebble under the conditions of a U.S. Open except twice (1972 and 1982).
“The course will be dry, hard and fast, with heavy rough, and it can also be cold and windy in June. And, there is U.S. Open pressure.”
Watson said that when he was younger he played every tournament as if it was the U.S. Open.
“To be honest, I don’t play like that any more,” he said. “I’ll play with a goal in mind, a particular swing I want to test out. But in the U.S. Open, you pull out all the stops to win.”
Watson said his game is in good shape, except for one important element--putting.
“I wish I could be putting a little better,” he said. “I don’t have that confidence right now. I just hope to have a good streak. Unfortunately, I don’t have many good streaks.
“You have to putt well to win tournaments. You have to make more than your share. When I was winning golf tournaments, I was putting better than most people.”
And, of course, in 1982, he was chipping better than anybody--at least, on one memorable hole.
MONTEREY TOPS You might get some argument from the folks in Augusta, Ga., who say their layout for the Masters is the shrine of American golf, but for many, Pebble Beach stands alone as the premier layout in the United States, perhaps the world. Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble, says there is no course he’d rather play. And this from Tom Watson, who won the ’82 Open at the links course on the Monterey Peninsula: Like any great links course, the elements play a heavy role. On the final day of the ’72 Open, the wind was so strong, a sailing regatta scheduled off the point of the seventh green was canceled. Nicklaus’ one-iron that hit the pin on the 218-yard 17th hole that day, ensuring his three-shot victory, remains one of the game’s legendary shots.
Pebble Beach, designed by two former California amateur champions--Jack Neville and Douglas Grant--opened in 1919. It played host to the U.S. Amateur 10 years later, has been an annual fixture on the PGA Tour since 1947 and will be the site of its third U.S. Open this week.
You’re never far from the ocean at Pebble, but on one especially menacing four-hole stretch during the middle of the round, and the final hole, the cliffs to the ocean threaten from tee to green. Here’s a look at those five holes.
(7) 107 YARDS PAR 3
The green appears so close to the tee that you might be able to toss a ball right up the the cup, but tee shots will vary from a sand wedge to a five-iron, depending on the wind. Sam Snead once used a putter from the tee, rolled the ball into the front bunker and was happy to settle fro a bogey rather than risk disaster in the wind.
(8) 431 YARDS PAR 4
A blind uphill tee shot is followed by what Nicklaus calls “the most dramatic second shot in golf” across a deep ravine to the second smallest green on the course. Miss the green to the right and the ball can end up in the ocean. Nicklaus and Watson each played the eighth in one over par the years they won the Open.
(9) 464 YARDS PAR 4
The longest par four on the course, where par is almost always acceptable, particularly when hitting into a wind. The fairway slants left to right, so second shots will come from a sidehill lie. Many players consider it the toughest hole on the course. Birdies are rare, though Tom Kite once hit a sea gull with his tee shot. He ended up with a bogey. Tony Lema, in the 1957 Crosby Pro-Am, fell 18 feet from the cliff and suffered several bruises.
(10) 426 YARDS PAR 4
The hole is similar to No. 9, but tougher at the start. According to Johnny Miller, “It’s the scariest tee shot on the course.” The cliff is only about 12 feet from the right of the green. In the final round in ’82, Watson was down the cliff toward the beach on his second shot, pitched back just short of the green, then holed out for par. He went on to sink two more shots from off the green to win.
(18) 548 YARDS PAR 5
It is one of golf’s most dramatic holes, with the rocky cliffs running the full left side of the fairway. It can be a birdie hole, but over aggressive play can produce a double bogey. In the 1929 U.S. Amateur, Jimmy Johnston played his third shot from the beach, waiting to hit as waves receded, made par and went on to win in the afternoon round.
U.S. OPEN PAR AND YARDAGE
HOLE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 OUT PAR 4 5 4 4 3 5 3 4 4 36 YARDS 373 502 398 327 166 516 107 431 464 3284
HOLE 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 OUT TOTAL PAR 4 4 3 4 5 4 4 3 5 36 72 YARDS 426 384 202 392 565 297 402 209 548 3525