Golf: The Open: Watson in mood for revenge

Tim Glover finds the amateur champion has an old score to settle
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The Independent Online
Craig Watson will never forget the last time he played at Royal Troon. It was not that he licked the postage stamp or that he had a red- letter day. Quite the reverse.

The weather was not unkind on the Ayrshire coast for the Scottish Strokeplay Championship in 1991 but Watson was eight over par for the first seven holes and went on to shoot 83. "The front nine was the easiest," Watson said, "and at the turn I was heading into the wind."

To make matters worse he began to argue with his caddie, who happened to be his father, Robert. "He was getting more and more annoyed," Craig said. "And I told him that if he thought I was deliberately hitting it that badly he could walk in there and then. We had a few sharp words but he realised I was still trying. We are probably not the best combination out on the golf course."

When Watson takes his bow in the Open Championship at Troon this Thursday, Robert will be restricted to being a spectator behind the ropes. Craig is employing Stephen Forbes, the resident professional at Caldwell Golf Club near Glasgow, as his caddie. "I checked with the R and A and they said it was OK to have a professional carrying my bag."

Watson is in the Open by virtue of winning the amateur championship at Royal St George's, Sandwich, last month. A Scottish international since 1991, he had played in the Amateur on 10 occasions and had never got beyond the quarter- finals.

Watson, whose club is East Renfrewshire, had played all the courses on the Open rota apart from Royal St George's and he had no intention of playing in Kent until Barclay Howard, another Scotland international, talked him into it.

"I had no thoughts of entering," Watson said, "and once I did I had no thoughts of winning. I drove down on my own so that if I was knocked out early on I could go back up to Scotland straight away."

In the event he won eight matches, defeating the South African national champion Trevor Immelman three and two in the 36-hole final. "I was lucky," Watson said. "I kept on playing guys I knew and there was a friendly atmosphere which made it an enjoyable tournament."

Not only did his victory earn him a place in the Open but him got into the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team which will play against the United States at Quaker Ridge in New York next month and, of course, the US Masters at Augusta National next April.

For most, the amateur championship has been a stepping stone, albeit at times a slippery one, to a professional career. Watson, who will be 31 next month, is unsure whether to join the paid ranks, although no agent has been beating a path to his door.

Prior to Royal St George's, his experience of the limelight was restricted to working in the family business in Falkirk, a wholesale shop which goes by the name of Exciting Lighting. "If you ever went in there," Watson said, "you would wonder why it was called that. It's fairly quiet in the summer and I get all the time off I need to play golf."

Last week he followed in the slipstream of the professionals at the Gulfstream world invitational in Loch Lomond, but he missed the cut with rounds of 71, 77.

"It's a tough school," Watson, who plays off a handicap of plus two, said. "But it would be stupid to say that I definitely won't turn professional. After the Masters next year I'll discuss it with my family. Age has nothing to do with it. I'm certainly a better golfer than I was a few years ago. Perhaps I'm a slow developer. My friends say I'm slow at everything."

Watson, through conversations with his friend Gordon Sherry, is well aware of the hazards lining the journey from the amateur to the professional game. Sherry turned professional after a memorable season two years ago but has been struggling to make an impression ever since.

"He was unfortunate," Watson said. "He made a huge impression and everybody had such great expectations of him. Comparing him to Tiger Woods did not help and after that there was only one way he could go. He has the talent, he is not a flash in the pan and he'll get there in the end. I have not had to experience anything like that pressure."

There is something else Craig can be grateful for. His father may not be the best caddie in the world but he was astute enough to resist the temptation to christen his son Tom.

Amateur champions in

the last 10 Opens

1987 Paul Mayo Tied 57th

1988 Christian Hardin Tied 113th

1989 Stephen Dodd Tied 137th

1990 Rolf Muntz Tied 150th

1991 Rolf Muntz Tied 144th

1992 Gary Wolstenholme Tied 151st

1993 Iain Pyman Tied 27th

1994 Lee James Tied 93rd

1995 Gordon Sherry Tied 40th

1996 Warren Bladon Tied 96th