Tom Watson won the Crosby Open and the San Diego Open on consecutive weeks with record scores and has played his last nine rounds under par. He also became the pro golf tour's leading money-winner with $86,700 for the infant season.
"I owe a lot of my success to Byron Nelson (former U.S. Open and PGA champion)," Watson, 27, explained yesterday on the telephone from Honolulu, where the Hawaiian Open will be played this week. "Byron, of course, was Ken Venturi's mentor for many years and Ken told me what a wonderful teacher he was.
"At the end of last summer I was not playing well. I called Byron in October and before I could say anything else, he told me, "I know why you're calling. Come on down."
"I went down to Nelson's ranch in Preston Trail, Tex., and we went through several long sessions."
Nelson, a purist who had one of the smoothest swings in golf, studied, analyzed and corrected Watson.
"We went over the mechanics of my swing," Watson said, "but the main thing was a little shorter control on top of the back swing. My leg drive was not coming through on impact and I had a tendency to lock my legs and let my hands do the work. Byron corrected all that and I left him with new confidence. It seems to be paying off."
Watson first burst into prominence in 1974 when he led the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Mamaroneck, N.Y., by a stroke going into the last round. But he blew to a 79 and Hale Irwin took the prize. Watson came back the next week to win the Western Open and then in 1975 won the British Open.
Watson was a four-time winner of the Missouri Amateur championship and played three years at Stanford University before graduating in 1974 with a degree in psychology.
Watson doesn't attach much importance to the fact he set tournament records in both the Crosgy (14 under par) and in the San Diego (19 under).
"Playing conditions were perfect for both tournaments," he said. "The fairways were hard and the greens soft. There were quite a few guys in both tournaments who were 12 and 13 under. There was no rain for either event and no rough at all."
Watson said he has again become an overnight celebrity - just as he was in 1975 when he won the British Open.
"It's not the money that's important," he said. "I'm like Johnny Miller in that I like to win any tournament but, as Jack Nicklaus points out, the major victories go down in the record books and that's the only way you can be remembered by your peers. People don't tend to remember who won a particular tournament other than the majors - although the money is a great attraction. But, more than the money, I want to be the best in golf.
"At 27, I'm young enough to have most of my career still before me. I get a tremendous amount of fun out of playing the tour. Of course, it's all work when you lose and easy when you win."
Watson has won more than $600,000 since joining the PGA tour in 1972. He didn't win a tournament last year, but finished in the top in 11 tournaments and won $138,202.
Watson doesn't hold with the adage that the golfers who shine in the winter tour fold in the big tournaments. Hubert Green had won three straight titles going into the Masers last year and then faded from sight. Green blamed his lapse on the rest he had taken.
"I'm not going to do that (rest) as long as I'm going well," said Watson. "What happened to Hubie Green is not going to happen to me. I don't need a layoff. I feel strong and I intend to keep going."