Many know Tom Watson as one of the most esteemed golfers of all time with his five wins at The Open Championship, two Masters titles and one U.S. Open victory. He has won a collective 39 tournaments on the PGA TOUR and was named PGA TOUR Player of the Year six times.
But behind these accomplishments were also struggles. At the 1974 U.S. Open, Watson, then only 24 and a recent Stanford graduate, had a one-shot lead after 54 holes. The young golfer was in sight of victory when he teed off on the last 18 holes for America’s National Championship. But Watson struggled uncharacteristically — shooting a 79, including 41 on the back nine.
Defeated, Watson walked off the course and was greeted by Byron Nelson himself.
“Tom, I love the way you play golf,” Byron Nelson said, “and I love the way you conduct yourself on the golf course. If you’d ever like to work on your game with me, feel free to call.”
In that moment, a mentorship and friendship formed that Watson will cherish forever. Although they worked on swings and techniques, Watson said that the biggest and most important lessons he learned from the legend weren’t technical at all.
“Byron was a great friend, a great mentor and about the finest swinger of the golf club I ever saw,” said Watson. “To be allowed in his company means a lot to me.”