By Michael Barzee
One of the greatest shots in U.S. Open history occurred in the 1982 U.S Open at America”s finest golf course – Pebble Beach. The chip shot happened on the 17th hole against golf legend Jack Nicklaus. Every year when the U.S. Open rolls around I think more about the golfer who made that shot and his contributions to a children”s hospital than the shot that beat Nicklaus.
Tom Watson was the golfer who made that shot. Despite his 39 career PGA victories, including eight major championships, Watson never turned his back on his hometown of Kansas City, Mo. For a quarter century, Watson has put on charity golf classics to raise money for Kansas City”s Children”s Mercy Hospital.
Beginning in 1980, Watson would call a few golf friends like Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, John Daly and Phil Mickelson, to name a few, and ask them to play in the one-day classic.
However, in 2005, the golf classic came to an end. After 25 years of the classic and raising millions of dollars, it was over. Or was it? On April 14, 2006, Children”s Mercy Hospital unveiled a bronze statute that depicted Watson with two things he cared so much about – golf and children.
In the unveiling ceremony, Watson was quick to turn the attention from him to the wonderful doctors, nurses and medical technicians that help save lives on a daily basis. But that is Watson being his humble self. No better example of his humility can be seen in the title of the golf classic itself. In its 25-year history, the golf classic was never named after Watson, but rather for the hospital.
Although I was born and raised in Kansas City, I never really got to see Watson”s generosity until 1998 when I was hospitalized at Children”s Mercy Hospital because my large intestine was bleeding. I was scared thinking that I would be in a dark and cold hospital room of the old wing without food for about three weeks. Instead of being put in the old wing, I was put in the new wing of the hospital, which was made possible by the golf classic. My room in the new wing was more like a hotel room than a hospital room with its luxurious bathroom, mechanical bed, reclining chair and futon for my mom to sleep on.
However, it wasn”t until I was a poster child for the classic during this hospitalization that I understood where a lot of the money for the new wing came from.
On one particular day, a lady came in my room and asked me if I would be interested in being a poster child for the upcoming golf classic.
“What golf classic?” I thought.
I later found out it was a golf classic put on by Tom Watson every June. I agreed to get my picture taken with four other sick children and Mrs. Watson.
I never did get to meet Tom Watson but when the classic came around I did receive a golf classic teddy bear and autographed poster. However, Watson had already given me enough. His generosity helped me make it through some of the hardest times of my life.
Big name athletes make that name through excellence in their sport, and Tom Watson is no exception. But few famous athletes do what he did, making him a rarity not only as an athlete but also as a man. Thanks Mr. Watson.