The movie, “First Knight” is one of my favorite films. The story of King Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere is a never ending legacy of romance, altruism, betrayal and honor. Until today, I always thought of this saga as a work of fiction. But, seeing it played out on the worldwide stage of the 2009 British Open, I know now it to be true. And, my heart was broken all over again watching Tom Watson in the role of a real life King Arthur.
For four days and 71 holes, this noble man from Camelot gave everything he had to preserve his kingdom he established three decades earlier. At 59 years of age, he reminded me of Sean Connery, gruff, vulnerable, boyishly handsome and committed to winning that final battle to preserve his homeland in the only non-U.S. major in history. But, alas, it was not meant to be. In the final moments of his passionate efforts, he fell short in winning the only love of his life, the fair Guinevere of Turnberry. She betrayed him as surely as the age old story of his love did leaving his dream of living happily after in Camelot in shambles at the end.
King Arthur defeated not one, but two Sir Lancelots, Andrew Goggin and Ross Fisher, two young and handsome upstarts who threatened to steal his Queen. With them safely out of the way, he then had to contend with Lee Westwood, the Prince Malagant who not only entered the sacred realm of the King, but actually sat in the throne until he too, was defeated by Arthur. As these interlopers rose and fell, it was the steady slashing of Excalibur, the magical sword, that allowed Tom Watson to make all of us believe there would be a fairy tale ending to this magical weekend.
Then, out of nowhere, came Lord Stewart Cink, not heretofore considered a serious contender to any throne, especially not the one who could possibly win the hand of Guinevere. But, lady luck was on his side when Excalibur failed the boy King both on the last hole and in the ensuing playoff. Arthur never had a chance in the one-on-one joust. It was a massacre. His older steed was simply not a match for the young, fresh legs of the contender. Even Merlin, who had worked his mystical powers for Tom Watson throughout the battle saving him with long, impossible putts and wondrous chip shots out of the deepest and darkest woods, left him at the time he needed him the most.
In, “First Knight,” King Arthur is trapped in his own courtyard with impossible odds bearing down on him. He is surrounded by his enemy and left with two choices: death or dishonor. He seemingly chooses the latter at first as he begins to kneel in submission to his fate and then suddenly rises up and shouts, “FIGHT!” to all his people surrounded and seemingly doomed by a powerful, fighting force which wanted to end the realm of Arthur and his beloved kingdom. In the final battle, Arthur dies defending his dream and we watch with tears in our eyes as he and his funeral raft are turned into a pyre drifting out to sea.
As I watched Tom Watson do the same in the four hole playoff, it was equally painful to watch the death and finality of his dream. Just as surely as the arrows tore into Arthur and finally into his lifeless floating grave, I saw the same heroic figure stumble to his end with errant tee shots, listless putting and ultimately, the inevitable truth that the lady of Turnberry, his beloved Guinevere would never allow him to love her one last time.
Now, King Arthur and Tom Watson belong to the ages.
But, they will be forever remembered as Kings who were not only worthy of our love but of our respect one last time. Camelot lives on with this legend and this weekend. I saw something I will never forget. Nobility not just in a palace with a round table, but in sports with a small round ball. Two gentlemen forever etched in my memory. And, through my tears, I smiled. For it was beautiful to watch in its heroism and hope.
I believe the story of King Arthur and his beloved Camelot are not imaginary on a page or a big screen. They are real. I know. I saw it with my own eyes. I thank you Tom Watson for your bravery and grace as you made us all believe in the magic of dreams. You will never be forgotten.
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