Don’t mention it too loud, but Tom Watson – the Godfather of the Open Championship, the living legend of links golf – has a distinctly average record in the Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
The American golfer, now 62, is playing in his 35th Open Championship this year, and while Watson has lifted the Claret Jug five times, and on five different courses, Royal Lytham is not one of them.
In 1979 he finished tied for 26th, in 1988 he was tied for 28th, in 1996 he didn’t play due to an injured shoulder, and in 2001 he missed the cut. It’s a very un-Watson-like record.
That’s not to say that Watson – who lost to Stewart Cink in a play-off in the 2009 Open at Turnberry, aged 59, after a remarkable performance – does not like the Royal Lytham golf course. Such personally tinged sentiments are beneath him.
“The finish at Lytham – the 16th, 17th and 18th holes – provide a great final act to the golf course,” he starts. “The 18th has a minefield off the tee that you have to hit into, and you just have to be playing your second shots off the turf on those last holes. You had better hit some quality shots coming in at Lytham or you are going to make some bogeys.
“You don’t have the hit the ball very far at Lytham to compete. Bearing in mind I hit the ball shorter than the kids do today, there are still certain golf courses on which I can compete. Lytham is one and Turnberry is another.”
And Watson has an interesting nugget of advice for golfers as they practice this week, and wend their way down the front nine at Lytham, which is closely flanked by a railway line much of the way.
“Another hole on which you have to be really careful is number three, a par four up the railroad tracks,” he says. “The further you hit your tee ball, the more the fairway narrows, and to me it seems treacherous because you could easily hit it out of bounds onto the railroad tracks, and that has always been a key shot for me on that golf course.
I always enjoyed taking it on. I am knocking on wood right now, but so far I have never delivered a ball onto the railroad – only in practice rounds, but you always have to donate a ball during practice, as a sacrifice to the Gods of out-of-bounds, or call them what you will.”
Call them what you will? Who would argue with the Gods of out-of-bounds?
Story courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, patron of the 2012 Open Championship