A couple of weeks ago, for the first time since undergoing a total left hip replacement surgery in early October, Tom Watson started swinging a golf club again.
Hitting into a net at Kansas City Country Club, Watson said he took it easy on the first eight or 10 swings with his driver. But feeling no ill effects from the first surgery of his long and storied golf career, he thought to himself, "Let's see what I can do."
So, he said, he hit 200 balls as hard as he could into the net.
"I put the pedal to the metal," he said. "No problem. I did it for another hour."
Sitting in a conference room in his Kansas City-area office on Tuesday, Watson swiveled his left leg to show what he said is a noticeably increased range of motion. He said he's pain-free. He said he's ready as another Champions Tour season approaches.
"Right now, I could play a golf tournament without any problem. I could walk the necessary 72 holes if it took it," he said. "I'm getting in pretty darn good shape."
But it's another cold Kansas City morning as he discussed his surgery and the upcoming season, and to that point the chill in the air had prevented him from actually playing a round of golf since before the early October procedure. He heard Gary Lezak forecast warmer weather ahead, and if the temperature creeps above 50 degrees, he'll probably get out and play.
One way or the other, though, he'll be back on the course soon enough. Watson plans to play in back-to-back events next month, starting with the Wendy's Champions Skins Game on Jan. 17-18 in Hawaii. It's the first event of the 2009 Champions Tour season.
Regardless of how warm it gets in Kansas City between now and then, Watson believes he'll be ready for the competition.
"This is for 90 shooters like you," he said to the person in the room who hasn't won eight majors and who considers the '90s shooters' label generous. "The two most important clubs in your bag are your driver and your putter, and those are the two clubs that I'm working on right now."
The putter is what really has him intrigued. He's been working with technology that analyzes various components in one's putting stroke and has confirmed what he long believed -- that he aims left when he thinks his aim is straight, and that he opens his club face at impact, putting side spin on the ball.
"I'm just trying to get my timing, my rhythm, my power back. And I'm working with the putter," he said. "That excites me because I haven't putted very well or very consistently at all in the last 20 years. I've won a few tournaments, but I remember days past where I made everything.
"Now I've got something that I can go out and see if when the chips are down, whether it's going to work or not."
He seems more curious about that than how he'll hold up to the rigors of regular competition just a few months after hip replacement surgery.
Of course, the surgery wasn't so much a golf decision as it was a lifestyle decision.
There were four or five events last season, including the U.S. Senior Open, where he felt his hip stiffened up enough to compromise his play. But more than that, for about two years, he said, he struggled with the dull pain that kept him awake at night and the considerably sharper pain when he moved the wrong way in his sleep. It was getting worse.
"I really wasn't too worried about the effects of it on my golf game," he said of the surgery. "The most important things were the effect on my lifestyle -- whether I could sleep or not -- and it's worked."
When he ultimately decided it was time, Watson told his friend and tour counterpart Andy North.
"Andy's had 11 surgeries. He said, 'Watson, when you start feeling good, when you start feeling 100 percent, wait another month before you do anything,' " Watson said. "And that's the mentality I had with this. I could afford to take another month."
So now he's sleeping easily, swinging freely and -- despite the time off -- ready to go. He plans to play in around 15 events this season, about the same as he has in recent years.
And after nearly four decades as a pro, 39 PGA Tour victories and 12 Champions Tour wins, Watson's competitive spirit remains strong.
"I still like to compete, bottom-line," Watson said. "That added pressure that you go out with when you're competing, I like that. And I still like to beat everybody I play against. I still have that nature."