Basically, waiting at the locker room door of the Kansas City Royals, the 32-year-old redhead looked like your average rumpled baseball beat writer. Old blue jeans, tennis shoes, short-sleeve shirt, longish hair getting kind of shaggy. Laughing and wisecracking with the bunch of writers around him. Looked like he'd been on a road trip a few days too long.
"Let's see your pass, buddy," grumbled the large guard at the Royals door, not recognizing perhaps the most famous native of the Kansas City area since Harry Truman.
"Hold on, let me get this out," said the fellow, delightedly digging through his shabby pockets for his one-day press card.
"Okay, okay," said the guard, suddenly realizing his mistake. "Please, go on in, sir."
"No, no, I've been waiting for this moment," said Tom Watson, reigning champion of the U.S. Open and the British Open, continuing to search through his pockets.
"Here it is!" Watson said, holding up the crumpled card.
And, holding his press pass up like a kid who had just found a souvenir, Watson walked into the Royals locker room.
Thursday, Watson will be teeing it up in the PGA at Southern Hills in Tulsa, trying to join Ben Hogan (1953) as only the second man in modern times to win three major tournaments in the same year. But, last week, he could afford to have a good time.
With the 40,000-fan traffic jam outside Royals Stadium, there was no place to go. His pregnant wife Linda had given him permission to leave her waiting upstairs so he could visit his favorite baseball team ("Okay if I go, honey?").
"This is like my first summer vacation in 10 years," said Watson, who has played only 10 tournament rounds in the last 10 weeks. "Kind of reminds me of my old school days . . . really fun."
Inside the locker room, reporter Watson blended in so nicely that he was almost unnoticed.
"Know who that is?" said Rocky Colavito, the Royals hitting coach, to outfielder Cesar Geronimo.
Geronimo studied Watson thoroughly, then shrugged, "Don't know."
"That's Tom Watson. He plays a lotta golf," said Colavito, pausing for just the right evaluation, "for a little fella."
Watson, delighted with this analysis, promptly gave Colavito and Geronimo a demonstration of why "it helps to be my size in golf . . . if you're too big, or have too many muscles, you can't swing properly."
Going into an exaggerated, muscle-bound crouch, Watson shows how a guy who's too big--like, maybe, a big former American League home run champion--has no chance against him on a golf course.
George Brett drifts over, shakes hands, says, "Nice to see you again." Watson is a Royals Stadium regular--this is his second game in three nights--even if he doesn't usually crash the locker room.
Usually, Watson's biggest public relations problem as a golfer is the public perception that, at least in part, he's an ambitious young workaholic who locks his emotions deep inside and lets out only those words and facial expressions that have been practiced and proven efficient, like a dependable pitch-and-run.
That, if Watson and golf are lucky, may change a bit.
After Watson beat Jack Nicklaus at Pebble Beach in June to win the Open, friend and fellow pro Buck Rogers said, "Now that winning the Open is off Tom's back, there'll be no stopping him now."
So, in July, Watson won the British Open, making him only the fifth player ever to hold both titles.
Watson already seems appreciably more relaxed, though perhaps it's just his leisurely '82 schedule--two weeks off before U.S. Open, then the Westchester Classic (missed cut), two more weeks off before the British Open and, now, another two weeks off before Southern Hills.
Seeing Watson in the Royals clubhouse is a nice counterpoint to his cheerful, but undeniably strained, public face. Spotting one Kansas City baseball writer--Mike McKenzie of the Star--Watson says, "Oh, no. Here comes One-Club McKenzie."
Watson then recalls how McKenzie once arrived for a social round of golf carrying only one gimmick club--adjustable to 10 lofts--in his large bag.
"You're not going to do this, are you?" said Watson, the horrified purist.
McKenzie certainly was. He'd seen the club advertized in the back of a golf magazine, he'd mailed away for it, and he was going to play against Tom Watson with it. And, just maybe, McKenzie wanted to do something unconventional to set a wedge in one of the cracks in Watson's shell.
Now, the only person who enjoys the one-club tale more than Watson is McKenzie.
Of course, no Watson vacation can go uninterrupted; as the microphones appear, he doesn't fight it.
"Southern Hills is a course I like a lot. I'm playing well, but the short game and the putting are not there right now," says Watson, going into his basic pretournament rap. "Southern Hills has length and all that heat (often over 105 degrees). It'll wear you out. The 13th and 16th are about as long holes (465-yard par-four and 569-yard par-five) as you'll want. And the 18th's tough, too (434 yards). You have to make your birdie at 17."
Columnist Joe McGuff of the Kansas City Star asks Watson if a victory at the PGA, plus the '83 Masters, would, in any sense, be a grand slam.
"Maybe we could call it a grand slam in my fiscal year," says Watson.
Watson stands in the middle of the Royals, many of whom make the slope-shouldered 5-foot-9, 165-pound golfer look almost frail; yet the biggest forearms in the room may belong to Watson.
Watson, so often grim in repose over the years, can't get the smile off his face. It's been there ever since the U.S. Open; it may take years to erase. "The U.S. Open is like the World Series or Wimbledon. Unless you win that, you haven't won the most important prize in your sport, and there's no way you can get around that fact," Watson says, the grin expanding. "It's helped a heck of a lot."