Golfer Tom Watson Biography

Tom Watson at the 1977 British Open
Tom Watson during the 1977 British Open, which he won by one stroke over Jack Nicklaus. Don Morley/Getty Images

Tom Watson dominated golf in the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, winning dozens of tournaments and plenty of major championships. He famously outdueled Jack Nicklaus in several majors, and won the British Open five times.

Fast Facts: Tom Watson

  • Occupation: Professional golfer
  • Full Name: Thomas Sturges Watson
  • Born: September 4, 1949 in Kansas City, Missouri
  • Key Accomplishments: Winner of nearly 40 PGA Tour tournaments, including eight major championships.
  • Famous Quote: "The person I fear most in the last two rounds is myself."
  • Fun Fact: He is the oldest runner-up in major championship history, losing a playoff to finish second to Stewart Cink at the 2009 British Open when Watson was 59.

Number of Tour Victories and Wins in Majors

Watson won 39 times on the PGA Tour, the bulk of those wins happening in the years from 1977 through 1983. (All his wins are listed below.) After turning age 50, Watson won another 14 times on the Champions Tour.

Watson's 39 PGA Tour wins are tied for 11th most in tour history. And his eight wins in majors is sixth most in the history of men's professional golf.

Those eight wins in major championships include two at The Masters (1977, 1981), on U.S. Open win (1982) and five British Open victories (1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983).

Awards and Honors for Watson

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • PGA Tour money leader, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1984
  • PGA Tour Vardon Trophy winner, 1977, 1978, 1979
  • PGA Tour Player of the Year, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984
  • Captain, USA Ryder Cup team, 1993, 2014
  • Member, USA Ryder Cup team, 1977, 1981, 1983, 1989

Watson Trivia

• In 1999, Tom Watson was made an honorary member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. He joined four other Americans to receive that honor: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, President George H.W. Bush and Gene Sarazen.

• In four of Tom Watson's eight major championship victories, Jack Nicklaus finished second.

Tom Watson Biography

In the period of time between Jack Nicklaus' peak and Tiger Woods' peak, Tom Watson was the best golfer in the game.

Watson stood up to Nicklaus on numerous occasions, one of the few golfers who consistently went toe-to-toe with Nicklaus and came out on top.

Their duel at the 1977 British Open - where Nicklaus shot 66-66 over the final two rounds, while Watson shot 66-65 to win by one - is one of the greatest head-to-head battles the sport has ever seen. Watson robbed Nicklaus of another major at the 1982 U.S. Open with his famous chip-in on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. In fact, in four of Watson's eight major championship wins, Nicklaus was runner-up.

Watson played golf at Stanford University and graduated with a degree in psychology. He turned pro in 1971, but in his early years got the reputation of a player who wilted under pressure.

Watson began working with Byron Nelson, who would become a great friend and mentor, and in 1974 broke through with his first PGA Tour victory. In 1975, he won the Byron Nelson Classic, then his first British Open title. Watson was off and running.

He went on to win the British Open a total of five times; the Masters twice, and the U.S. Open once. He led the PGA Tour in wins six years, in money five years, in scoring three years. He was PGA Tour Player of the Year six times.

During those years, Watson was an aggressive putter, fabulous chipper and unsurpassed from tee to green.

His final PGA Tour victory came in 1998. In 1999, he began playing on the Champions Tour. Watson was Player of the Year in 2003, but the year also was marked by sadness: his longtime caddie, Bruce Edwards, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease. Watson co-founded an organization, Driving 4 Life, to fight ALS. He donated $1 million to the foundation, and during 2003 alone Watson helped raise nearly $3 million for ALS-related causes and other charities.

In 2007, Watson won his third British Senior Open. And in 2009, Watson, nearly 60 years old, gave golf fans a thrill when he held or shared the lead in the British Open after the second and third rounds and nearly all of the final round. He reached the 72nd-hole tee with a 1-stroke lead, but bogied and then lost to Stewart Cink in a four-hole playoff. Had Watson pulled off the victory, he would have been, by far, the oldest major championship winner ever.

Tom Watson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988.

Watson has authored or been featured in several instructional books and DVDs, most recently the book The Timeless Swing and the DVD Lessons of a Lifetime. He also has a golf course design business.

Quote, Unquote

  • Tom Watson: "A lot of guys who have never choked have never been in the position to do so."
  • Tom Watson: "If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate."
  • Tom Watson: "I learned how to win by losing and not liking it."
  • Lanny Wadkins: "Tom would never tolerate a weakness. He'd go to the practice tee and beat at it until the darn thing went away."

List of Watson's Tour Wins

PGA Tour (39)

  • 1974 Western Open
  • 1975 Byron Nelson Golf Classic
  • 1975 British Open
  • 1977 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am
  • 1977 Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational
  • 1977 Masters Tournament
  • 1977 Western Open
  • 1977 British Open
  • 1978 Joe Garagiola-Tucson Open
  • 1978 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am
  • 1978 Byron Nelson Golf Classic
  • 1978 Colgate Hall of Fame Classic
  • 1978 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic
  • 1979 Sea Pines Heritage Classic
  • 1979 Tournament of Champions
  • 1979 Byron Nelson Golf Classic
  • 1979 Memorial Tournament
  • 1979 Colgate Hall of Fame Classic
  • 1980 Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational
  • 1980 Glen Campbell-Los Angeles Open
  • 1980 Tournament of Champions
  • 1980 Greater New Orleans Open
  • 1980 Byron Nelson Golf Classic
  • 1980 British Open
  • 1980 World Series of Golf
  • 1981 Masters Tournament
  • 1981 USF&G New Orleans Open
  • 1981 Atlanta Classic
  • 1982 Glen Campbell-Los Angeles Open
  • 1982 Sea Pines Heritage
  • 1982 U.S. Open
  • 1982 British Open
  • 1983 British Open
  • 1984 Seiko-Tucson Match Play Championship
  • 1984 Tournament of Champions
  • 1984 Western Open
  • 1987 Nabisco Championship
  • 1996 Memorial Tournament
  • 1998 MasterCard Colonial

Watson also recorded four wins on the Japan Golf Tour (including the Dunlop Phoenix in 1980 and 1997) and one on the Australian Tour (1984 Australian Open).

Champions Tour (14)

  • 1999 Bank One Championship
  • 2000 Senior Tour Championship
  • 2001 Senior PGA Championship
  • 2002 Senior Tour Championship
  • 2003 Senior Open Championship
  • 2003 Tradition
  • 2005 Senior Open Championship
  • 2005 Charles Schwab Cup Championship
  • 2007 Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am
  • 2007 Senior Open Championship
  • 2008 Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am
  • 2008 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf (team tournament, partnered with Andy North)
  • 2010 Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai
  • 2011 Senior PGA Championship