The truth, he explained, was that he, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player took part in the Augusta, Ga., event for fun earlier this month. Three friends paired together, recalling some of their most treasured memories from that Augusta National course.
But six holes into the event, they were playing quite well. The jokes began to subside, and three men who made a living out of thriving in the best of competition felt the return of an old but familiar feeling.
"That's the first time in years that I had the competitive juices flowing, and I missed that," Player told Watson the following day.
"When we teed off on the first hole, we were just going to go for a walk in the park — wave to the crowd, hit a few good shots," Watson said. "By the sixth hole ... it's no more waving at the crowd. The blinders are on, and we're trying to win that tournament."
The best golf is now behind Watson, a Kansas City native who will turn 69 in September. His top drives stall around 250 yards, he said.
But the zest for that competition has never left. And that's the thought behind his promotion Thursday — the 2018 Watson Challenge. A tournament that Watson started 12 years ago — an effort to determine the best golfer in Kansas City — will visit Shadow Glen from June 8-10.
It's one of the handful of events on Watson's planned schedule this year, along with the Senior British Open Championship and Senior U.S. Senior Open Championship.
And make no mistake: While the event may benefit a charitable cause (The First Tee of Greater Kansas City), Watson plays to win.
"When you tee it up on the first tee, you're all in," Watson said. "I don't play this golf tournament any differently than I played my first golf tournament on the tour. I play this just like a regular tour event. I'm all in."
In the previous years of the 54-hole tournament, Watson has won five times, most recently in 2013. It's back at Shadow Glen, a course Watson helped design, for the first time since 2009, when Watson won by five strokes.
He tied for 13th last summer, with current Kansas and former Shawnee Mission East golfer Andy Spencer winning the event by seven shots. Spencer is among a group of the top 16 area amateurs scheduled to play, including former Blue Valley Southwest golfer Travis Mays, the Kansas City Golf Association points leader. Eighteen Midwest section professionals have also signed on.
"That's the foundation of the event — you have the most competitive event in Kansas City with the best players," Watson said. "We've accomplished that."