ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - The fickle bounce of the ball on the treacherous corrugated fairways of wild links courses has been pretty kind to American Tom Watson during his 40-year love affair with the British Open.
Five times he has conquered topography and climate, and some of the game’s greats, to lift the Claret Jug, the first occasion on his debut in 1975 at Carnoustie when he “was just trying to learn how to play the game for a living”.
He almost did the unthinkable and win a sixth Open at Turnberry in 2009, aged 59, a bad break on the 18th green depriving sport of its ultimate fireside fairytale.
As the 65-year-old held court with the world’s media on Wednesday on the eve of a farewell appearance at the tournament -- appropriately St Andrews -- it was clear Watson feels he has been dealt a good hand over the decades.
Turning up at Carnoustie 40 years ago, Watson admits he did not even like links golf -- he just “fought it”.
But it was there he was first touched by the charm and traditions of golf in its ancestral home.
“That Sunday morning of the playoff against Jack Newton I was leaving the house, and it’s raining, it’s cold, and here comes a little Scottish girl, comes up to the front door and said ‘Mr Watson, please take this for good luck,'” Watson, recalling the day he clinched victory in 1975, said.
”I could barely understand her, but I finally figured it out. She gave me a little thing of tin foil, and in it was some white heather, I kept that in my bag for years for good luck, and it brought me good luck.
“That’s what golf in Scotland is right there. It’s such a part of the fabric of life here in Scotland.”
There is a sadness in Watson’s eyes as he prepares to walk the Old Course for the final few times as competitor.
But also the same fierce determination.
“The regret is that it’s over,” Watson said.
”But I‘m out there to compete in the Open Championship. I’ve prepared right. I’ve prepared properly. I’ve got a game plan. It’s not a ceremony at all.
”The other part of it is the final walk across the Swilcan Bridge. If it’s Friday, it’s Friday, if it’s Sunday, it’s Sunday. I’ll be walking with my son Michael on the bag which will be very special, and I hope I‘m fighting for the top 10.
“That’s the hope, if in reality I‘m not, it will a great final walk.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis