The best part about this writing gig is sharing stories with you, the readers. When I returned from The Masters I had many emails and personal conversations with people who expressed enjoyment from sharing that firsthand experience with me at The Masters through the stories I wrote.
Last weekend I received a very compelling story from Derek Sprague, the Secretary of the PGA. I think the following email exchange really captures the essence of golf and the players who continue to leave their mark on the game. Sprague is the General Manager at the Malone Golf Club in Malone, NY. He grew up on the course as a kid and then returned to his hometown of 6,000 people to run the golf operation. Malone is located in the northeastern corner of New York near the Canadian border. Here is the story.
“This is a must read. This is from one of my members here at Malone Golf Club who I gave my Masters practice round tickets to. I believe this was the first professional golf tournament he attended. He sent me a note upon his return and then I saw him in person and he told me this story about Tom Watson. It was awesome. Grab a Kleenex and enjoy!
Here is the account of Stephen Horne’s experience at The Masters.
“I started to understand Tom Watson’s stature in golf when we found him working methodically on the practice range and saw player after player come over to introduce themselves and shake his hand as a matter of respect. Watson, who was being quite serious in his club-by-club preparation, had time for an extended chat with everyone.
“I thought Watson’s graciousness by itself showed some class, but had it confirmed on the Ninth Tee of the Par Three Contest the next day when I watched Tom instinctively come to the side of a wounded vet with a prosthetic leg. The young sergeant had been graciously given a chance to take a swing after Fred Couples and Charles Coody had taken their shots.
“The vet looked nervous and slightly embarrassed as he teed it up and addressed his ball. Sadly for him and the crowd, he topped it in an awkward swing and it splashed in the pond about fifteen feet from the tee. Though the crowd gave him a warm ovation, he was clearly uncomfortable, as was his crew cut buddy alongside for moral support.
“Tom Watson watched all this from the trees on the cart path and as soon as the previous Couples/Coody group departed the tee, he came over to the vet and put his hand on his shoulder and started giving him a pep talk. We were close enough to hear the smiling Watson joke, ‘There is nothing to be nervous about- it’s nothing like getting shot at, is it?’
“Watson continued his patter and tossed in a few swing tips as the Couples’ group patiently signed autographs and eventually left the green ahead. Then, after all of the pros in Watson’s group had taken their swings, Tom turned to the crowd and loudly announced the vet’s name and rank and waved encouragement to the crowd as it applauded in support.
“This time the sergeant addressed the ball, took a more measured swing and watched the ball cross the pond and land safely on dry ground to the right of the green. The crowd erupted with a standing ovation and Watson, the vet and his buddy grinned from ear to ear.
“It was a sweet moment for all, but for me, it was the telling moment of three great days watching the pros at Augusta. Here, Hall of Famer Tom Watson, amidst his own preparation for this pressure-packed tournament had taken time to notice a kid’s discomfort and had instinctively acted to give him a chance to reclaim this memorable moment. He did it with great class, and it worked.
“No wonder everyone came over to shake his hand the day before on the practice tee- guys like Tom Watson elevate everyone’s game.
“Again, Derek, thanks for the chance to witness moments like this. It might not improve my putting, but it can’t help but make me a better person. And thanks to you and the PGA of America for keeping this spirit integral to the game of golf. Especially now when my other games, football and baseball, slowly lose the essence of clean competition and sportsmanship.
Tom Watson continues to be an example for all players, no matter their age or the number of major championships on their resume. Need I say more?