Meeting Hero At Last

Golf

Maryland Amateur Gets To Talk To Watson, Who Won 1st Tournament He Ever Saw

August 07, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Tom Watson, the craggy-faced legend who came within an 8-foot putt of winning a major championship at age 59, remains an inspiration for senior golfers everywhere.

Count John Howson among his most fervent admirers.

Howson, 50, a vice president of engineering for Black & Decker's DeWalt division in Towson and one of the best amateur players in the state, is gearing up to play in the big Middle Atlantic Amateur Golf Championship at Four Streams Country Club in Beallsville in October.

But he's still buzzing from his performance in the U.S. Senior Open last weekend, where he finally got to meet Watson just weeks after Watson electrified the golf world by nearly becoming the oldest player to win the British Open in Turnberry, Scotland.

"I took up golf rather late, when I was 16," said the British-born Howson, who moved to the United States three years ago and is a member of the Towson Country Club. "And the first tournament I ever saw was Tom Watson winning the British Open at Carnoustie in 1975. So he really was my hero."

Howson traveled to the Senior Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., with Greg Moores, 51, a fellow DeWalt vice president of engineering who was his caddie. Howson qualified for the Senior Open at Evergreen Country Club in Haymarket, Va., in a field of 88 players (62 pros, 26 amateurs).

The Senior Open was won by Fred Funk, the former University of Maryland golf coach, who shot a 7-under 65 Sunday to finish a record 20-under for all four days.

But Howson, despite a painful arm injury suffered in a practice round, shot a respectable 74-78 the first two days, missing the cut by five strokes and finishing tied for 84th out of 156 players.

No one appreciated being around the top senior golfers - in addition to Watson, the winner of eight majors, Greg Norman, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite and Craig Stadler were in the field - more than he and Moores.

"It was an amazing experience, I have to say that," Howson said. "I felt as though my game fit quite well with the greats of the game."

"He was nervous at first, not sure if he could compete with guys of that magnitude," Moores, a 7-handicap at Hayfields Country Club in Hunt Valley, said.

But when it was over, Moores added, "he convinced himself he could play with them."

The crowds at Crooked Stick were large and enthusiastic, with some 30,000 fans on the course Thursday when Howson teed off at 7:45 a.m. in the first group.

He was in a threesome with a popular local teaching pro named Scott Morris, who attracted a gallery of 300.

"We had a gallery of five," Moores said with a laugh. "One guy from Black & Decker, a supplies rep from DeWalt and a doctor and her husband who befriended us."

Over the two days he played, said Howson, still sounding amazed, "I gave between 500 and 1,000 autographs! I'd given one autograph in my life before that."

Despite shooting a 74 the first day, Howson said, he wasn't 100 percent physically.

During a practice round Monday, he felt a burning pain in his elbow after his first drive and spent the next two days in the first-aid trailer, getting ice treatments and anti-inflammatories.

This being a tournament for the over-50 crowd, the first-aid trailer was a popular spot.

Pretty soon, Howson was hobnobbing with Norman and Ian Woosnam, talking golf, comparing injuries and telling one another about their families back home.

Eventually, Howson was diagnosed with a tendon tear. Before his opening round, he took a couple of painkillers, which made him dizzy. But he still managed to play solid golf, even though the elbow had turned black and blue from the strain.

"I thought he did great," Moores said. "The Senior U.S. Open is a grind. And it's really a tough course. It [was] the longest course, over 7,300 yards, in U.S. Senior Open history."

Besides, it was the day after he missed the cut that he finally got a chance to meet Watson.

At breakfast in the players' dining lounge that morning, Howson was shocked to see Watson pull up a chair at his table.

"I told him I was amazed at what he did at the British Open, and how inspirational it was," Howson said.

Howson said Watson looked exhausted, having played for three consecutive weeks in the British Open, the British Seniors Championship and the U.S. Seniors Open.

But chitchatting that day at breakfast, Howson said, Watson "was the gentleman you always thought he was."

In any event, Howson said his strong showing at the Senior Open - and Watson's incredible near-win - have energized him and renewed his commitment to golf.

"The advent of senior golf and the age of 50 gives you a shot in the arm," Howson said with a chuckle. "I'm a big fish now."

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