Bill Elliott talks about the sights and sounds of the Open 2014, including an interview with Tom Watson


FIRST the good news…Tom Watson is in fine fettle. The 64 years old American hero is playing in his penultimate Open this week – the R&A have gone all soft and found a special exemption for him to stride off into the sunset at St Andrews in 2015 – and is already talking about it.

Actually, he was talking about playing with his own hero Jack Nicklaus when The Great One played his final Open on the Old Course nine years ago.

“When Jack hit his last ball off that 18th tee I started crying. I was bawling like a baby and cried all the way from tee to green. Then Jack told me to pull myself together because I had a putt to make to get into the weekend. It’s the only time I’ve cried on a golf course. I’ve laughed a lot and been pissed a lot – Americanese for ‘angry’ – but never before or since cried.”

Nicklaus, it turns out unsurprisingly, was the template for Watson’s own stellar career. “Just the best. When I first came out on tour I asked a lot of guys what was the best thing I could do to improve and they all said the same thing…watch the best and, when you can, play with them. Nobody was better than Jack. I remember early on at Hilton Head I missed the cut and stayed the next day just to walk with gallery watching Jack.”

What did he learn? He learned that Jack minimised his errors. His best shots were not really that much better than anyone else’s but his mistakes were smaller. Armed with this knowledge, Watson went on to win five Opens. Then, belatedly, Nicklaus offered another tip to his younger rival – always fall short rather than risk going long.

“Jack’s theory was that going over a green usually offered more problems than coming up short. he reckons it cost him an Open at Lytham when his caddie wanted him to hit a 3-iron into the 17th and Jack took a two, went long and took three to get down. He lost that Open by a shot and said he never made that mistake again.”

Embarrassing moment No.1: Young American Shawn Stefani chose the wrong place to misbehave yesterday. Playing his debut practice round in an Open the 22 years old hit his approach to the 1st from directly outside the giant media centre with a dozen journos watching. Before he hit his ball he emptied both nostrils on to the fairway and followed up by spitting. He said he has a lot to learn as he plays here and he’s correct. I suggest he starts by buying a handkerchief.

Embarrassing moment No.2: My own failure to instantly recognise Royal Liverpool Lady Captain Jeanne Bell when I bumped into her over lunch. Why should I recognise her? Well, I played here with her just two months ago. It’s such fun getting older.