Tom Watson believes the Old Course can cope with the modern day bombers at next year’s 150th Open at St Andrews – if the R&A can set it up properly.
The five-time Open champion twice got close at St Andrews but never won there, although it was on the Swilcan Bridge he made his farewell in 2015 in the gloaming after the second day was badly disrupted by rain.
That year light-hitting Zach Johnson finished as champion, and Watson believes that there’s enough trickery in the game’s oldest layout to catch out the Bryson DeChambeaus of the game if they’re not careful.
‘If the R&A is smart, they can force the players to hit the proper shot’
The 150th Open at St Andrews. Everything has led to this. pic.twitter.com/Y6XzGR54Gc
— The Open (@TheOpen) June 1, 2021
“It is going to be interesting to see how they play the course,” said Watson. “Look at how John Daly played it when he played the play-off. He hit driver to 16, he took those bunkers out of play by bombing it over them into the rough.
“If the R&A is smart, will force the players to lay up short of those bunkers and hit the proper shot into that hole. I think they could do that with the set up.
“You can certainly drive (the greens) at 9, 10 and 12. If you catch it downwind, then you could drive 16.
“I remember playing St Andrews where you had to lay up with an iron on the tee shot at 14 because it would roll 100 yards. The R&A like fast conditions, they want it fiery. And people love to see it – I love to see it. It’s wonderful to see these players hit the ball so far.
“But the thing is they still have to perform. They still have to putt, they still have to chip, they have to keep those long drives from going into those bunkers.
“They have to play their way around there and be smart, no matter how far they hit it.”
150th Open will be a target for Tiger Woods, believes Watson
Although he has passed the age limitation to play, Watson definitely intends to be back at St Andrews in 2022 – “the good Lord willing” – and believes it will be a target for the recuperating Tiger Woods as well.
“The thing from a medical standpoint is that it was his right foot that was damaged,” said Watson of Woods’ car crash injuries. “You can play golf with a damaged right foot but you can’t with a damaged left foot. As a right-handed player you post on your left side, so if you have a damaged left side you can’t play.
“I would suspect that Tiger will be back playing professional golf before next year’s Open championship. I think he’d want to be there.
“One of the wonderful things about the Open at St Andrews is that they have a past champions dinner. It’s always a very special night. I look forward to that, being there and seeing St Andrews at its finest.
“I really hope it’s fiery, baked out and tan, and the winds are blowing 25 to 30 mph!”
Mickelson and other over-50s can win more majors
Watson also believes that more over-50s will contend in Open Championships in the wake of Phil Mickelson’s victory in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
“I thought it was wonderful but it didn’t surprise me,” he said. “Phil still hits the ball a long way. If you can do that you can still perform against anybody on the tour.
“You’re going to see older players continuing to play very well into their 50s, I believe. It’s all about the desire, that’s the bottom line. They’ll have the length to do it, but the desire to keep that fine edge honed to play competitive golf.
“Phil can do it again, he just proved he could do it. There are a few others but you look at Phil, he’s got the length, he’s got the short game. And obviously he has the desire because he keeps working on his body.
“If he can win on the Ocean Course at Kiawah in the PGA he can win anywhere. That’s a tough, tough, tough golf course. Torrey Pines (for the US Open) will be easy compared to Kiawah.”
‘There is a little bit of regret there’
Watson plans to be at Sandwich for this year’s Open – “It will test the best players, the long hitters, without a doubt” – but his thoughts are moving toward 2022.
“I guess you might say there is a little bit of regret I didn’t win there,”he said. “But, with five other Open Championships under my belt, I guess it tempered it somewhat.
“St Andrews is the place where people think of when they think of golf. Going to the UK and Scotland to play golf and the first thought you have is St Andrews.
“I still have the feeling when I am on the tee ground at the first and at the 18th that this is the very same tee ground that all these great players who played in the Open Championship for 150 years stood on and hit their tee balls. That’s a wonderful feeling to have.”