Tom Watson, Seventh Grader

Wheezer, 1962

Tom Watson and I had the same seventh-grade math teacher. Watson is six years older than I am, but we attended the same school, in Kansas City. It was called Pembroke-Country Day then and is called Pembroke Hill now. It was boys-only in our day; it began to go co-ed when I was a senior.

My father had had the same math teacher, too, many years before. In my father’s day, the math teacher’s nickname was Tarz, short for Tarzan, because he was built like Johnny Weissmuller; by the time Watson and I had him, his nickname was Wheezer. He looked like Lyndon Johnson, with tremendous gravity-stretched jowls and ear lobes. Age must have lengthened his scrotum, too, because he was always careful to lift his testicles out of the way before sitting in a chair or leaning back against the front of his desk. Sometimes, my friends and I, as we took our seats for math, would pretend to lift our testicles out of the way, too.

Wheezer supervised one of my study halls. One day, an eighth-grader hid a running tape recorder inside a locker in the back of the room, and every five or ten minutes the tape would scream, “WHEEEEEEE-ZER!” There would be pandemonium; then, gradually, everyone would settle down; then it would happen again.

When Watson was in high school, in the mid-sixties, he was the captain of the golf team, of course, but he was also an outstanding shooting guard on a very good basketball team, and he was the quarterback (and leading rusher) on the football team, which won a conference championship. He would put his golf clubs away every August, when two-a-day football practices began, and he wouldn’t touch them again until February, when basketball season was over—a mentally and physically healthy approach to sports that athletic prodigies don’t follow anymore.

I never saw Watson play golf, but I did cheer for him at basketball and football games. Then, in 1967, he went off to Stanford without a scholarship, figuring he’d end up in the insurance business.

Watson was the subject of one of my first magazine articles, a profile for Esquire, which ran in 1982. I had to revise the ending over the summer, as it went to press, because he suddenly won the U.S. Open, at Pebble Beach, after making his famous chip-in birdie on the seventeenth. And then, in July, after the issue could no longer be updated, he won the British Open, too.

These photographs are from Pembroke-Country Day’s yearbook for 1967, when Watson was a senior and I was in sixth grade. I’m pretty sure I was in the bleachers at the football game below, because my friends and I didn’t miss many. Watson is at the far left.

5 thoughts on “Tom Watson, Seventh Grader

  1. Thanks David. I was in the class behind your brother John at Pem-Day. We met at the pool when you were back in KC with your family several summers ago. My very close friend from college Scott Michaux sent me the attached blog. You may know Scott…he is a columnist and main golf writer for the Augusta (GA) newspaper. Scotty and I were Sports Editors in successive years for the now defunct University Journal at the Uiversity Journal.

    I wanted to pass along another Tom Watson anecdote from my days at Pem-Day. In December of 1981, just as Tom Watson’s golf career was reaching a full crescendo, he took the time to play against the current varsity team from Pem-Day in the school’s annual alumni game. After reading your blog, I am wondering whether Tom took a little time away from the game during the winter months even at that point in his career. As a senior point guard — though typically the second guy off the bench — I was given the chance to line up against Tom to begin the game. Former Air Force basketball standout (and my current law partner) Mike Thiessen won the opening tip for the alumni team. Watson grabbed the ball and immediately blew by me for the game’s first basket. Thanks goodness I wasn’t quick enough to get in front of Tom and pick up the charge…I could have hurt KC’s “Fourth Franchise” (Chiefs, Royals, Kings and Watson), and one of golf’s greatest moments (Tom’s chip in birdie at Pebble Beach) may have never happened.

    Thanks for your fantastic writing through the years, David. My Usual Game ranks as one of my very favorite golf books ever.

  2. Sorry about the typos in my previous comment…Scotty and I were Sports Editors at the “University of Virginia,” and “thank” goodness I didn’t get in front of Tom and pick up the charge!

  3. Hey David –

    I am glad to see that you are still writing entertaining pieces. I recall reading your first book about High School way back when at a time when I was living with your brother, John, and my brother, John, in a 1400 sq. ft. sardine-can-of-an-apartment in the heart of NYC.

    It was fun to learn of Adam Sachs’ high school memory of Watson as I had a similar experience the following year….

    I have always thought that it was extremely cool that Tom Watson would even consider returning to his roots and risk injury to play in a little varsity-alumni basketball game, which he did on a number of occasions. Like Adam, I also recall “guarding” Watson and marveling at the fact that he repeatedly blew past me to the hoop off the dribble throughout the entire game. I was a severe hacker, so it was shocking that they even let me on the floor with him, much less allowed me to defend him.

    I had no idea that he also excelled as an RGIII-type QB, but I guess that should be no surprise really.

    Among the many great things that Watson continues to do is to host the Children’s Mercy Hospital Golf Benefit. As a result, I once got to see him play 18 holes in a foursome with just Jack Nicklaus and the two top local amateurs at Blue Hills. If you have still never seen him play live, then I recommend you attend this intimate event.

    Take care and keep the fun memories coming.

    PS – Have you now reached an age where looking after one’s scrotum has evolved from something to be mocked into a daily, personal necessity? Your story called to mind another well-known Kansas City man, who shall remain nameless, who was famous among his students for patenting a scrotum-related maneuver — an outward rotation of the knee, combined with a deft, but none-too-subtle pocket shuffle — which had the desired effect of unsticking the scrotum from the inner thigh and came in quite handy during those humid KC summer months…. No doubt, The Wheezer would have been impressed.

Leave a Reply