A text message from Jack Nicklaus’s wife helped inspire 59-year-old Tom Watson to grab a shock lead early in the British Open first round on Thursday.
“There is something slightly spiritual about today,” the veteran American told reporters after a five-under-par 65 put him one shot ahead of the field. “I received a text yesterday from Barbara Nicklaus. “She wished me good luck and I texted her back and said: ‘We really miss you over here’, and I really meant it. It’s not the same without Jack playing in the tournament.”
The eight-times major champion and his good friend Nicklaus were involved in the famous 1977 Duel in the Sun at Turnberry, a thrilling head-to-head won by Watson.
Asked if his 65 could propel him to another British Open title at the same venue 32 years later, Watson replied: “The quick answer is yes ... I feel I’m playing well enough to win.”
Given more time to reflect, he said: “How am I going to do the next three rounds? I don’t know, don’t have a clue. “I wish I could tell you I’m going to break the Open record and shoot 262 but we’ll just see.” Watson turned back the clock to the time when he claimed five British Open victories by notching five birdies in a flawless round, the highlight a 20-foot putt that disappeared into the cup at the par-four third.
Nicklaus, now 69, said a few years ago he no longer wanted to simply make up the numbers in the major championships. “I concur with Jack,” said Watson. “I don’t want to be a ceremonial golfer. When R&A chief executive Peter Dawson told me about the 60-year age limit for this tournament I said: ‘Peter, that’s a sensible decision’.
“I think there’s a certain age limit, you’ve got to let the younger kids play.”