The key is for his head to be in the right spot.
Watson likes to make fun of himself when it comes to his mental game, saying time and again that “I’ve got issues.” At home, he’s still finishing up the paperwork on the adoption of his son, Caleb, who came into his world right before he won the Masters. Watson gets distracted easily, whether it’s deciding what he wants for dinner or what video game he’s going to play that night. Part of his charm is that he acts like a kid.
“When I focus right, I play pretty good,” Watson said. “And when I don’t focus right, I miss the cut pretty quick.”
His focus at Lytham is being in the short grass.
There are a few holes, such as the 336-yard 16th hole with the wind from the Irish Sea at the players’ back, where they might be tempted to go for the green. Some of them tried on a more pleasant afternoon on Sunday, though the risk is to catch the bunkers short of the green. From there, players might need to two more shots just to get on the green.
Watson was asked if he can overpower the golf course in good weather.
“It’s a trick question because yes, I can,” he said. “But I’ve got to hit every fairway, and with the driver sometimes I get a little wild, as we know. The high rough. It’s not like our rough in the U.S. This is hay that is 15 yards off the fairway, 10 yards off on some of the holes, and you might not find your ball. You have to play smart. This golf course, and the U.S. Open, they make you play to a strategy and have to play a certain way, so you have to do that.
“There could be a day out of four days that I can just beat driver everywhere and play great golf,” he said. “But four days in a row to get that lucky, to not have a bad lie or find all my balls, that would be tough to do.”
Watson missed the cut at Turnberry and St. Andrews in his first two trips to the Open. A year ago, he improved to a tie for 30th. It’s not the best record so far, though his head appears to be in the right place. Unlike Olympic, where he didn’t like his chances upon seeing the course with so much slope in the fairways, he loves links golf.
Watson already has played Royal Birkdale and St. Annes Links before showing up at Lytham. He loves the creativity required, the bounces on the turf, the imagination. It’s different, but it’s fun.
“I think that’s why it gets so difficult for me is because there’s so many shots you can play,” he said. “But I love it. I love coming over here. It’s sad that it’s one week out of the year to play links golf for us from the U.S. But it’s fun. You can come over here and create shots that you don’t normally do.”