Courtesy of KansasCity.com
Fifty-five golf luminaries have been honored by the Memorial Tournament since its inception in 1976, but the one honored yesterday might have meant the most to tournament host Jack Nicklaus.
Tom Watson, a friend and fierce competitor of Nicklaus for more than five decades, was honored by the Nicklaus and the tournament’s Captains Club yesterday.
Nicklaus was overcome with emotion and had to pause during his introduction of Watson during a ceremony in front of the driving-range grandstands at Muirfield Village.
Watson “embodies everything I can want in a friend,” said Nicklaus, who choked up as he reminisced about the eight-time major winner (“a couple at my expense,” Nicklaus said) with 39 career PGA victories, including the 1979 and 1996 Memorials.
Nicklaus recalled seeing a 15-year-old Watson swing a club for the first time during an exhibition in Topeka, Kansas. “And if you look at his swing, 47 years later, it hasn’t changed,”Nicklaus said. “It’s a swing that whether you’re a junior or a senior, you wish you had the ability to do that.”
Featured speakers Nicklaus, Gov. John Kasich and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem all made reference to Watson’s thrilling run in the 2009 British Open at age 59. Watson, who led after three rounds, lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
Kasich said Watson embodies “eternal youth” and “turned back the hands of time” in 2009.
“To me, he’s Huckleberry Finn,” the governor said.
Watson, 62, did not play in yesterday’s pro-am because of a wrist injury but plans to play some senior events and at least one PGA Tour event later this year. He, too, shed some tears as Nicklaus introduced him.
“I’ve been pretty lucky,” Watson said, who made reference to mentor Byron Nelson, his supportive wife Hilary and his parents, including a mother who hand-knitted his head covers.
“And I have to give credit to Jack (Nicklaus),” said Watson, who jokingly said he considered Nicklaus a “villain” because of his rivalry with Watson’s boyhood idol, Arnold Palmer.