By Ted Bishop
At 67, Tom Watson is content with the occasional victory lap in golf. Despite playing only a limited schedule in recent years, he still shows flashes of the form that led to eight major championships in a World Golf Hall of Fame career. In the Shaw Charity Classic in September, he shot 65 to better his age for a fourth time in tournament play.
Yet what makes Watson one of golf’s greatest champions is his thirst for competition. These days, that means a search for new conquests.
Tom Watson, with wife Hilary and her horse ScooterCutting is a western-style equestrian event in which a horse and rider handle cattle during a 2½-minute performance. The session, known as a run, is scored by judges.
“My wife, Hilary, has been doing it for about six years,” Watson said from Hawaii, where he was vacationing after the PGA Tour Champions’ season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship. “I’ve been just watching and I thought I would like to try this. I love the whole process, and it’s competition.
“It’s a complete rush for me when I’m on a horse and it takes control of a cow. It’s like playing basketball on a horse, being on defense and not losing a cow. If your horse lets a cow get away, it’s like hitting a ball out-of-bounds because the judge will penalize you.”
A contestant must make at least two cuts from the herd: one from deep inside the herd, and the other can be peeled from the edges. With the selected cow driven clear of the herd, the rider then commits the horse by dropping the rein hand to feed slack and gives the horse its head. From there, only leg cues from the rider can be used to prevent the cow from returning to the herd.
“I suppose cutting is like a golf swing from the standpoint that it’s one step at a time,” Watson said. “You have to know where to put the left spur – get it in and get it out. Kick the horse in the right place.”
“A score of 70 in cutting would be like par in golf. The higher the score, the better. A 77 or 78 would be like breaking 60 in golf. I’m just a class filler,” Watson said with a laugh, adding that 72 is his career-best cutting score. He has “broken par” four or five times in competition and says his career cutting earnings total $68.20.
Compare that with his $25.8 million in career earnings for 39 victories on the PGA Tour and 14 on the senior circuit.
Watson concedes that he might compete in more cutting events this year than the seven or eight golf tournaments that he intends to enter. At his ranch near his native Kansas City, Watson intends to work with his horse, Cosmo, and a cutting trainer.
“It will be like a four-day golf school,” Watson said. “This is a new game for me, but it’s still competitive.”
Hilary Watson said of her husband, “Tom loves being around horses, so it was a natural progression for him to learn the sport of cutting. Typically, for anyone who hasn’t ridden their whole lives, it’s not the easiest sport to transition into. When Tom decides to do something, he puts everything into it. As competitive as he is, Tom thought he would enjoy competing more than watching. Go figure. This will be a new fun chapter for us, and I’m sure he will be trying to steal my really good horse from me in the process!”
And maybe there will be another championship in Watson’s future.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @tedbishop38pga