Iremember I’d be embarrassed and slightly perplexed whenever fellow golf writers told me that I knew Tom Watson better than most. I was in my 20s—and he just shy of 40—when I was
assigned to the “Watson Beat” in the late 1980s at the Kansas
City Star, his hometown newspaper.
Before we were introduced, I was so petrified of humiliating myself that I wrote five numbers on the palm of my left
hand (75, 77, 80, 82, 83) in case he quizzed me on the years he
won the British Open.
Fortunately, Watson was not that kind of guy. Far from it.
I was the first woman from the local paper to cover him
(female sportswriters were still somewhat of a novelty in the
’80s), and our working relationship was good from the get-go.
Although he didn’t like me in the men’s locker room, he
said he respected my right to be able to do my job like anyone
else. He could gently needle me (he once sent me a Tank
McNamara cartoon making fun of women who wrote about
sports), but in my 30 years on the job, he remains the only
athlete to open an umbrella to protect my notebook—and my
hair-sprayed head—from rain during an interview.
Friends are surprised to learn that I never saw Watson win
a tournament. Our six full seasons together were bookended
by victories covered by my predecessor and successor at The
Star. I began covering him in late 1988—the year after he won
the 1987 Nabisco Championship—and left Kansas City for
Detroit in 1995, the year before his
emotional victory at the Memorial.
“Sorry I didn’t give you much to
write about,” he’d often say.
Not true. I was reminded of that
last year when I found an old box filled
with Watson stuff, including letters,
transcriptions and cassette tapes.
When I pulled out of covering the
1991 Masters because of a trouble-
some pregnancy, Watson left a
message on our answering machine.
That he had called after firing a 70
to pull within a shot of third-round
leader (and eventual winner) Ian
Woosnam still gets me misty-eyed.
The box also contained notes I
had scribbled to myself so I wouldn’t
forget things that never made my
stories, like the time I was invited
to his house. We sat out back, and I
remember smelling burned fish skin
on the grill; Lee Trevino had been
over for dinner the night before.
The reflecting helped me realize
our winless record needs revising.
That’s because my Watson era also included his 1993 cap-
taincy of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, when he led the Ameri-
cans to victory at The Belfry in England.
With that in mind—and with Watson returning to the captain’s chair in September at Gleneagles—I drove to Kansas
City last year for a reunion interview.
We’d last seen each other in 2003, when Tom was in
Detroit for the Ford Senior Players Championship. I was
there to spend a few minutes alone with Bruce Edwards, his
longtime caddie, who was battling ALS.
Edwards died April 8, 2004. A couple weeks later, a
letter arrived: “His laughter and joy he brought to all of us
remains,” Watson wrote.
A decade later we met in his office—Watson now 64; his
former scribe 52. We spent most of our hour together talking
about life outside the ropes.
He smiled when I told him that my most cherished Ryder
Cup memories were small personal moments like when
Edwards, the April following Watson’s ’93 captaincy, gave me
a kid’s menu from a restaurant in Augusta, Ga. It was signed
by Sam Torrance, whose autograph request Watson had infamously snubbed at the Wednesday dinner before the matches.
“Oh, great,” Watson laughed.
When we said our goodbyes, for the first time ever, we
embraced. And it occurred to me that maybe I did know him
better than most. N
BY JO-ANN BARNASVOICES
My time with Tom
WATSON CHRONICLER RECALLS SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WI TH GOLFER