Laureation address – Tom Watson
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws
Laureation by Emily Griffiths
Captain, University Ladies’ Golf Club
Tuesday 13 July 2010
Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Tom Watson for the Degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.
Born in Kansas City in 1949, Tom Watson was first introduced to the game of golf at the age of six by his father Ray, a long time scratch player, who handed him a cut-down hickory-shafted 5 iron. Ray with Stan Thirsk, his first coach, helped with the formation of a swing that would lead Tom to become one of the greatest players of the last century and quite arguably of all time. Watson first received recognition as a serious golfer when he won four Missouri State Amateur championships between 1967 and 1971. During this period he was a student at Stanford University, graduating with a degree in psychology and playing a significant part in their golf team, whilst also competing and thriving on the amateur scene.
Joining the PGA Tour in 1971, I guess even Tom would not have dreamt that he would go on to achieve so many major victories and triumphs. A total of thirty nine wins on the PGA Tour including eight majors and thirteen victories on the Champions Tour together with countless other international successes, highlights Tom’s phenomenal achievements throughout his illustrious golfing career. One of the leading players in the world throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he earned the distinguished title of PGA Player of the Year six times and was five times leading money winner. Tom brought excitement and interest to the world of golf, His friendly, yet intense, rivalry, with Jack Nicklaus certainly served to increase the popularity of the game.
Watson’s US Open win, in 1982 at Pebble Beach, led him to achieve one of golf’s most remarkable pressure shots. Tom holed a tricky chip from the greenside rough to secure a birdie on the 17th. He then continued his spectacular form by birdying the 18th and grasping the title by two strokes.
There have been many other notable moments in Tom’s career. These include appearances as part of the US Team in four Ryder Cups and his captaincy of the US team in 1993, when his team triumphed in the Sunday singles matches after starting the day on the back foot. In 1999 he earned an honorary membership of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, here in St Andrews.
Last year’s trip to Turnberry brought with it success and an acknowledgement of the golfing legend that Tom has certainly become. Although Tom would have hoped he could repeat his 1977 Open victory, very few would have believed it possible. Turnberry, on that occasion, was host to his second Open championship win and to a closely fought victory over Nicklaus when Tom finished with a clinching birdie and third and fourth day rounds of 65. In 2009, Tom continued his success. Heading the field after three rounds, he became the oldest player to lead going into the last round of a major championship. As a result we now have the privilege of watching him for five further years at the world’s oldest major, The Open.
Tom has long been regarded as one of the greatest links players of all time. Missing out in the playoff when nearing your 60th birthday and still challenging the best players in the world, utterly justifies this claim. With five Open championship wins and three senior British Championships, it is easy to see why he is held in such high regard.
Watson has been a perfect icon for the sport throughout his career. In 1987, he received the US Golf Association’s prestigious Bob Jones Award, the highest honour given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf and, in the subsequent year, was elected to the PGA World Golf Hall of Fame and awarded the title of Golfer of the Decade for the 1980’s.
Tom’s golfing success has been extraordinary but his contribution to the game doesn’t stop there. Through Tom Watson Design he has created over a dozen courses in the US and abroad. For 25 years he hosted the Children’s Mercy Golf Tournament in his hometown of Kansas City, donating over $12 million to the local children’s hospital. He is also the Chairman of the Advisory Board for The First Tee of Kansas City, a charity that promotes character development and life-enhancing values through golf. From giving lessons to troops in Iraq to helping form the Bruce Edwards Foundation for ALS research, in memory of his long term caddy, the game of golf has always been a clear way for Tom to help with pursuits of great matter.
Tom Watson has been of fundamental importance to the game. His involvement and success on the PGA Tour have been staggering and his role in the golf world off the course has been of equal significance.
Chancellor, in recognition of his exceptional commitment, steadfast contribution and his triumphs within the sport of golf, I invite you to confer on Tom Watson the Degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.