Eudora — Not a drop of rain fell on the young golfers assembled at the Twin Oaks golf learning center to partake in a clinic given by one of the sport’s all-time greats. And right on cue, as Tom Watson was ready to start his lesson, a rainbow appeared high in the sky, off to his right.
Can a golf moment in the state of Kansas get much better than that?
Watson and old friend Twin Oaks proprietor Jeff Burey, a pair of relentless golf missionaries, joined efforts to create an immortal memory.
First, Watson sat down and posed with the golfers for a team picture.
“Anybody know who Arnold Palmer was?” Watson asked.
“Another golf player,” one of the First Tee students answered.
“Exactly,” Watson said. “Another golf player.”
Then they all marched over to a grassy area, right of the driving range, left of the nine-hole pitch-and-putt course.
Watson grabbed a 7-iron, his favorite club, and proceeded to show just how skilled he is by intentionally hitting bad shots, making one dribble on the grass. Two others blooped and died not far in front of him. He mixed in a whiff.
“Eight-time major winner Tom Watson,” Burey cracked.
Watson pleaded for help from the novice golf students: “Can somebody give me a lesson? What am I doing wrong.”
Corrections, some delivered with a condescending tone, came flying at the five-time British Open winner in rapid-fire fashion.
“You’re not standing upright,” was the first tip. “You’re coming up.”
And: “Your knees aren’t bent.”
Plus: “You’re moving your foot off the ground.”
Finally: “You’re not finishing.”
Magically, Watson applied all the fixes in one swing, the same sweet back-and-forth arc that enabled him to shoot his age, 67, in the third round of the Senior British Open on his way to a tie for 23rd place not quite two weeks ago.
He rifled another majestic beauty and expressed his appreciation to the young experts for their help: “Thanks for the lesson!”
Burey, who for seven weeks had been driving fundamentals into the heads of the young golfers, grew excited.
“How about that balance, kids,” Burey said. “Did you see the way he finishes facing the target?”
Watson: “What coach Burey said is right. When I was 6 years old, my dad gave me my first lesson.”
He shared the first pointer he received from his father, that when gripping the club with the left hand, the space formed at the base of the thumb at index finger should point to the right shoulder. Put the right hand on and have the same space also point to the right shoulder.
“Then he said spread your feet out, point your toes out a little bit,” he demonstrated, “and then when you make your swing, keep your head still and swing around your head. And then when you finish, finish with your bellybutton facing the hole, bellybutton facing the hole. See if I can do it here.”
Of course he could and did.
The young golfers wanted to see him hit his driver and wanted to know how to “hit it really far.” He demonstrated a bigger shoulder turn to add distance and encouraged them to swing hard as long as they didn't lose their balance.
On chipping: “You’re hitting the back of the ball. Just concentrate on hitting the very back of the ball.”
To hit the ball higher, he instructed, play it closer to the left foot, lower closer to the right foot.
“Pretty simple,” he said.
Next, he imparted wisdom on a couple of different types of pressure, the first dealing with proper grip pressure on the club, the second on dealing with the nerves that comes with competition.
He held a club in front of him and advised, “let it slide through your hands.” Next, he said that just before the grip is light enough to slide through the hands, extend the club horizontally in front of you.
“What that does is increases your grip pressure just a little bit and that’s all you use,” he said. “Don’t grip it really tight because the tighter you grip it, the stiffer your arms become. The stiffer your arms become, the slower you swing them. You want some looseness in those arms. You don’t want tightness. I’ll show you loose arms and loose grip.”
He hammered a drive that belied his birth certificate. Then he tightened his arms and hit a yardage-robbing slice the likes of which bruises bark from coast to coast and befouls tee-box air with blue language.
Watson shared that he struggled with nerves in big spots as a young touring pro.
“When I got into the lead, I couldn’t handle the pressure that well,” Watson said. “I got faster. I got faster. I walked faster. I swung faster. I made decisions faster. I finally learned that you have to have a certain pace, a certain speed with which you play. You have to learn how to stay at that speed.”
Watson patiently answered questions from the young golfers and some from fathers and seemed to enjoy the evening.
Favorite course: “Pebble Beach.”
Favorite thing about golf: “Plan the shot and hit the shot exactly the way you planned.”
Were there times you got really frustrated playing golf?
“Absolutely,” Watson said, and then shared that he once went six weeks without touching a golf club.
His first trophy? It came at the age of 14, when he won the Kansas City Golf Association Match Play championship.
“I still have that trophy,” Watson said. “It’s a pretty cool trophy. That was the tournament that gave me the dream of being a professional golfer.”
At 15, he played a round with Arnold Palmer, whom Watson called, “the greatest friend golf ever had.”
At 17, he played with Jack Nicklaus.
One of the game’s all-time great putters, Watson demonstrated a simple way to practice putting. Pick a short distance, keep putting at the distance until making three in a row, then move back, make three in a row, back up again, make three in a row, etc.
Holding his putter, he said, “This is the most important club in the bag, I promise you. I broke a lot of hearts with this club.”
He told a story of losing at the age 14 to his father in the final match of a club championship during summer vacation, then defeating him in the final of the same tournament a year later.
As the evening drew to a close, the assembled mothers and fathers and sons and daughters gave Watson a hand, a much louder, more heartfelt one than he would have received if he had gone through the motions.
“I’ve worked in a setting like this five or six times and every time he is so engaging and it’s always a little different,” said Robert Sweeney, an instructor with First Tee. “He’s done it a million times in his career, but he doesn’t ever mail it in.”
Burey thanked Watson for coming and for doing so much under the radar to grow the game.
The First Tee participants treated to a clinic from the golf legend, also were given a brand-new set of Calloway junior clubs and bags. The Midwest PGA Section Foundation paid for the clubs after Watson called his friends at Calloway to arrange a special rate for 100 sets.
Twin Oaks is the Douglas County hub for the First Tee program. For information on how to sign up for the $75 fall program, ages 7-17 (Aug. 26-Sept. 30, Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.), visit firstteekc.org, and scroll down to the section headed by “Twin Oaks Golf Course.”