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Print

Pro golfer Tom Watson turns to hunting in fall

December 18, 2011 at 11:34 PM

The Associated Press

OAKLEY, Kan. (AP) — For a change, pro golfer Tom Watson didn’t mind being in the heavy rough.

The tall grass that waved in the Kansas wind was right where he wanted to be, in fact. On this day, he was chasing pheasants, not a golf ball.

And he had a feeling that the thick cover in northwestern Kansas harbored plenty of birds.

“This cover looks ideal,” he said recently as walked beside Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in the Kansas Governor’s Ringneck Classic. “You know there have to be pheasants in here.”

On cue, a brightly colored rooster flushed and quickly ascended. The other hunters failed to shoot, judging the pheasant to be out of range. But Watson lifted his gun, fired a long shot and watched as the bird sailed down.

For him, moments like those are what fall is all about.

Last-round heroics in the Masters or the British Open might get his heart pounding in the spring and summer, but it’s hunting that brings adrenaline in the fall.

“When Sept. 1 rolls around, I forget about golf,” said Watson, 62, a Kansas City native who lives in rural Johnson County. “Fall isn’t for golf; it’s for hunting.

“This is my passion.”

That’s the way it’s always been for Watson. Even as a kid, he was fascinated by the outdoors world — from the duck marshes to the quail fields to the deer woods.

He remembers the first time he followed his dad into a duck marsh near the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri.

He was 7 at the time, and his dad had bought him children’s waders so that he could tag along with the adults to their favorite hunting place.

“My feet froze, but I didn’t care,” he said. “I had a great time watching the ducks decoy in, seeing the dogs go out to retrieve, watching the guys call.

“I was too young to shoot, but I couldn’t wait to join in.”

Watson laughs when he remembers the day he got his own gun.

“I went out and clandestinely bought a BB gun,” he said. “I must not have hid it too well, because my parents found it and took it away from me.

“But I went out and got another one, and I must have gotten better at hiding it, because they didn’t find that one.”

When Watson reached his 10th birthday, his dad got him a youth shotgun and he remembers tagging along with his dad on duck and quail hunting trips.

“We would quail hunt south of Emporia,” Watson said. “I remember that we had a pointer named Hap. My dad would let him out of the vehicle a few miles before we got to the land we would be hunting, just so that he could burn off his energy.

“That dog found a lot of quail. You wouldn’t believe how many birds there were back in those days. They were everywhere. The hunting was just fantastic.”

For Watson, that childhood passion has carried over into adulthood. He still hunts waterfowl at Squaw Creek, where he has had his own private duck club for years. And he gets out to hunt upland gamebirds — either quail or pheasants — every chance he gets.

It’s not only a form of recreation for Watson, it’s a way to get away from the pressures of the spotlight.

“It’s great to be out where nobody knows you,” he said. “In a lot of the places I go, I’m just another hunter.”

It wasn’t that way recently, when Watson, Royals great George Brett and others were invited as celebrity guests to participate in the Kansas Governor’s Ringneck Classic, an event designed by Brownback to draw attention to northwest Kansas’ outstanding pheasant hunting.

Based in Oakley, the event included 70 hunters. Proceeds benefited local charities, a scholarship fund and Pheasants Forever, a national conservation organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing wildlife habitat.

Brownback thinks that the Kansas outdoors has been underutilized — that proper promotion could draw more hunters and help strengthen the economy in rural areas.

Watson agrees.

“When you look at rural populations, they’re depleting,” he said. “I think it’s great to draw attention to some of the positive things these rural areas have to offer and try to get more people to visit.

“Kansas hunting has always been great, and I am happy to be a part of promoting it.”

___

Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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