The numbing sadness of Tom Watson's playoff loss to Stewart Cink in the Open Championship has not yet begun to subside. For a little over three days we dared to dream what was not just improbable, but by all accounts impossible. The Kansas Citian's bid to become the oldest major champion in golf, at just shy of 60 years of age, would not have been considered a plausible plot for even a Disney fairy tale. At age 59 (and 300+ days) you're just supposed to show up and give the fans a bit of nostalgia. You're supposed to just show your face so that fathers and grandfathers can point you out and tell their children and grandchildren that you are a living legend standing before them. Then, on Saturday after you've missed the cut, you're supposed to take your place in the broadcast booth and commentate and critique and reminisce.
But Tom Watson was not content to play the role of elder statesman or broadcaster this past weekend at Turnberry Golf Club on the western coast of Scotland. He showed up to compete, and on Thursday he said he felt like he was playing well enough to win. Then, he looked like he could make the cut. Then, he looked like he actually could win. Then, we believed he must win. We dreamed the impossible dream right along with him. And we were swept away by something of which our minds could have never conceived. We were swept away by what seemed like certain destiny, something that we were sure we wouldn't witness again in our lifetimes. As one national writer said yesterday….Watson was on the "precipice of the greatest accomplishment in the history of golf."
But we fell from the precipice into the chasm below as a missed par putt on 18 and four abysmal playoff holes unfolded before us. And our dreams were dashed. And now the pain of what might have been cuts deeper because we dared to dream it. We lament that it would have been better for Watson to have not made the cut. We cry foul. And if we had believed in something that many call the "golf gods," we'd shake our fist at them in anger. We wonder if it would have been better to not have been swept away by the dream in the first place than to awake to its gut-wrenching conclusion.
I must confess that I don't believe in the golf gods. I believe in the one true God that gives and takes away for His good pleasure, and I'm not going to speculate on how much (or if) He cares about golf's major championships. But one thing is certain, on a human level Tom Watson taught us many things over these last few days.
Tom Watson taught us the value of never giving up and of never letting anyone tell you you're too old to play competitively. He taught us the value of staying in good physical condition and of staying sharp mentally. He reminded us that golf is a "gentleman's game" and that one can be the fiercest of competitors while still being an exemplary sportsman. He showed us that golf truly is a "lifetime sport" and can be enjoyed in a multi-generational fashion.
But the lesson that is Tom Watson transcends the golf course. It transcends sports. Watson taught us this week that life is to be lived from the cradle to the grave. He taught us that we should dream big dreams. He taught us to live for as long as we have breath to breathe. Maybe after watching Tom Watson this weekend it will be a little easier to get out of bed tomorrow morning. Maybe we can push through the arthritis or the pulled muscle or other little ailments that have held us back. Maybe someone will start writing that book they've always wanted to write. Maybe someone will take up a new hobby they thought they had been too old to begin. Maybe someone will go back to school to pursue and education they had to put on hold for some reason. Maybe someone with cancer will be inspired the way Watson inspired Seve Ballesteros, who after suffering through four surgeries for a malignant brain tumor, says Watson has caused him to dream of coming back to St. Andrews in 2010 to compete in the Open to thank the fans who've supported him over the years.
There was a little piece of all of us that trod Turnberry's fairways this weekend with Tom Watson. And because of Tom Watson, we can wake up tomorrow morning and dare to dream a little bigger.