Tom Watson, PGA Tour player of the year the last three seasons and leading money winner in 1980 with $346,125, is in Washington this week to play in the $400,000 Kemper Open, which begins Thursday at Congressional Country Club. Yesterday, Watson, 30, met for lunch with editors and reporters of The Washington Post and discussed the state of the tour.
The following are excerpts from that interview:
Q: Does golf have an identity crisis and is it losing popularity in comparsion with other sports?
A: We've been competing with those sports for a long time, but when you look back, we weren't competing against other sports as heavily at the time (Arnold) Palmer started, back in the 1960s.
Palmer really helped, not only for golf, but for everything else. But now we have a bunch of garbage on TV. You're talking about the Battle of the Hollywood Superstars, the Battle of the Superteams. They put it on TV because it draws.
And now we have to compete against something else that draws. We're talking about personalities versus a sporting event. All you need on TV is a good contest -- like we've had the last two weeks. Like we've had several times this year. . .
It's not a failing of television. It's the nature of sport itself. You have football games that are 34-12. I turned off the Cotton Bowl when Houston was beating Notre Dame by 22 points, and Notre Dame ends up winning the ball game.
Why did I turn it off? Because it was no contest.
Q: It must be galling to you to have your personality brought up as a golf topic. Is Tom Watson's personality sufficient in the game, when you're pitted against a Farrah Fawcett hitting a tennis ball?
A: It's hard to compete against those things jiggling up and down . . . I'm not talking about the tennis ball either.
Q: The sterotype of golf is that the game has great players, but as personalities they don't have the charisma of, say, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg.What's your feeling about that?
A: I don't buy it. All you have to do, like I said before, is play good golf, competitive golf, and put on a good show that way. That's all the people want to watch.
I'm not a comedian; I'm not anything else but a golfer. So why should I go out and try to be something I'm not? I'm courteous. I'm usually there when the press wants me; I don't come up with the one-liners like (Lee) Trevino does, or go through an act like Chi Chi Rodriguez. I'm not that type of person. I don't pretend to be and I don't think I'll ever be that type of person. I enjoy to play the game for the love of the game, and the art form of the game. That is more important than anything else.
Q: You turn on the television and somebody's ahead by five shots. You're liable to switch the channel? What can be done?
A: What we do need is an enhancement of the Saturday telecast, because we don't have a completion there. We have a telecast on Saturday and then we have the completion on Sunday.
And, so, on Saturday we might do something maybe like put in a match-play format or something like that where you have players going head-on-head and have a definite outcome. It's canned. It's taped. It's been played . . . like the old CBS Golf Classic. . . .
If it's done properly and televised right, where you could see every important shot during the match, then it adds something to the telecast.
Q: Match play, that's what everybody plays. You can identify with it. You guys go out and shoot some unbelievable number and most of us have a hard time relating to that. Why are there no match-play events on the PGA Tour?
A: We do need a match-play tournament. But it's impossible to sell match-play tournaments. You have to televise the whole damn golf course, and besides the Olympics, golf is the most expensive sport to telecast, by far over just . . .
Of course the Super Bowl they put 15 cameras on it. A golf tournament might put 34 cameras on the golf course, with miles and miles -- hundreds of miles -- of wire.
Q: You've been on the PGA Tour now for 10 years. What are the changes?
A: Obviously the biggest change is that we're playing for about twice the money, playing for close to $13 million right now . . . The tournaments are run quite better. The condition of the golf courses have changed for the better.
The schedule has made it difficult for auto travel . . . You had few long drives like an 800-mile drive, unless you went from California to Florida. Now you almost have to travel by air. Expenses have gone way up.
Q: What do you have to make to exist on the tour?
A: Just to exist, I'd say you have to make maybe $40,000-$50,000. Now that's just your expenses on the tour. Now you have a home and are renting an apartment and have a car. You're paying for a few gifts and food. That runs another $15,000 to $20,000. Before you can put any money in a savings (account) or invest any money, you better have about $65,000 to $70,000.
Q: The top tennis players can equal in endorsements what they make on the circuit. Can you (Watson earned $462,636 on the tour in 1978) do that?
A: I think so.
Q: Do you do that now?
You know what's hurt golf the most?
The one thing that's hurt golf the most is carts. Carts have hurt it the most, because the one thing it's done is eliminate the caddies, the people who went out to the golf course and made a buck. Now the foundation is not there.
The foundation has to come from the junior golf program. The PGA Tour and the PGA, both of us, have been getting involved much more than we were 10 years ago with junior golf programs, because we've lost the kids.