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.