A whirlwind two days of speculation regarding Tom Watson and the Ryder Cup ended Thursday morning on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building when the eight-time major champion was named the 2014 US captain.
Ted Bishop, the PGA of America’s new president, introduced Watson, ending a yearlong vetting process. Though Bishop visited with Watson in Kansas City on Nov. 15, just five days after assuming the presidency, he started thinking about the captaincy back in 2008 upon becoming the association’s secretary.
“I think that one of the things that all of us that ever serve as officers look forward to is this time in your involvement with the Ryder Cup, and it’s still not the decision of one guy,” Bishop said later Thursday. “You’ve got to have the support of your other officers in this. But I love history. I really respect the Ryder Cup, and, obviously, I put a lot of time and effort into just researching the Ryder Cup.”
Bishop’s initial exposure to the selection process was very limited when Corey Pavin and later Davis Love III were picked.
“When I came in as the secretary, the decision to name Corey Pavin as the (2010) Ryder Cup captain had already been made,” Bishop said. “I had no input in that one. It was an easy decision to name Davis Love (for 2012). I mean, Davis was kind of the next guy in line. Had I not changed the procedure or thrown something different out there, we might have gone down the same type of road that we had in the past.”
Which suggests that David Toms, a former PGA champion, might have been the next captain.
Instead, Bishop thought about going beyond the PGA’s traditional list of candidates: a fortysomething major champion. He assembled a matrix of major winners from 1998 through 2011. In those 14 seasons, 24 of the major winners were foreign-born, and 17 were won by Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. The other American winners: Rich Beem, Keegan Bradley, Stewart Cink, Ben Curtis, Jim Furyk, Lucas Glover, Lee Janzen, Zach Johnson, Shaun Micheel, Mark O’Meara and David Toms.
“I think that’s an important ingredient,” Bishop said of looking at major winners. “But you look at the Europeans, and I think only eight of their Ryder Cup captains have been former major-championship winners. I mean, you look at some of the guys that are playing now. (Lee) Westwood. You’re going to tell me he’s not going to be a Ryder Cup captain? (Ian) Poulter is not going to be a Ryder Cup captain? Colin Montgomerie wouldn’t have been a Ryder Cup captain if they would have used our criteria.”
Bishop wanted a bigger selection pool, which meant going outside of the major-champion box.
“I was kind of looking at a number of contemporary players,” Bishop said. “I was looking at a guy like a Kenny Perry, maybe a (Steve) Stricker.”
All that changed in the fall of 2011 when Bishop read the late Jim Huber’s book “Four Days in July,” on Watson’s near miss at the British Open at Turnberry in 2009.
Bishop was intrigued by the topic and eventually called Watson, not necessarily to discuss Watson for the captaincy, but to pick his brain about our lack of success in the Ryder Cup.
At the end of a long discussion, Bishop asked Watson about his interest in the job, just as a gauge.
“I think I would have some interest,” Bishop said in recalling Watson’s response. “I would have to talk more about it. I’d really want to see what’s different with the Ryder Cup today than what it was in ’93, when I last captained, but I think I would.”
Watson emailed Bishop that night and said he wanted to talk the next day. The resulting two-hour conversation the next day was almost exclusively Watson asking questions about the recently ended Ryder Cup in Wales, a 14-1/2 to 13-1/2 European victory.
“I had been waiting for the phone call for many years,” said Watson, who compiled a 10-4-1 record in four Ryder Cups and captained the 1993 Americans to a 15-13 victory at The Belfry. He will be 65 when the 2014 Ryder Cup is played. “I just hoped to have been chosen to be Ryder Cup captain once again. And the elation, the emotion of it took over.”
Watson’s interest in the job was apparent to Bishop, so the due diligence started in earnest.
Bishop started with former Ryder Cup captains. Tom Lehman became an early advocate of the pick. But maybe the more interesting discussion occurred with a non-captain.
“I called Steve (Stricker) — I think it was in February — and he was at home, and said I want to talk to you about some Ryder Cup things,” Bishop said, recalling the discussion. “We talked, and I brought this thing up about the captain and being a former major-championship winner, and I’ll never forget this, just totally unsolicited, he said, ‘I don’t know why the PGA of America doesn’t bring one of the older guys back, like a Tom Watson.’ ”
Bishop had his man. As he talked up his idea with former captains and PGA officials, a consensus developed.
A couple of weeks after the Americans’ stunning loss to Europe in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, Bishop made the trip to Kansas City to visit with the Watsons to make certain that they were on board.
Eight hours later, Bishop knew that the last step was the final interview.
“It’s been one of these deals where the more we talk, every time I talk to him, I just became more convinced that this was the right move to make,” Bishop said.
So a week before Thanksgiving, Tom Watson was again in a situation similar to the one he faced in 1992. Two decades ago, he met with PGA executives who, after a while, asked him to step out of the room. When he returned, he was offered the captaincy of the 1993 US Ryder Cup team.
This time around, Watson had a better feel for the process. On Nov. 15, when Watson left the room for PGA officers Paul Levy, Derek Sprague and Bishop to huddle, Watson had to know his dream of captaining another Ryder Cup was just minutes away.
“I think we’ve broken from the system we had in the past, no matter what happens, because I think that you’re going to get an outstanding job here by the captain,” Bishop said. “I think the door is wide open. I think it’s a new day, a new era in how we pick Ryder Cup captains, and I think that’s a good thing.”