Tom Watson returns as US Ryder Cup captain
Tom Watson feels right at home in Scotland.
The PGA of America is counting on that comfort level to break
its road losing streak in the Ryder Cup.
The last time the U.S. team won in Europe was in 1993, which
just happens to be when Watson served as captain for the first
time. That drought gave the PGA of America good reason to break
from recent precedent in selecting its leader for the 2014 Ryder
Cup at Gleneagles.
”It’s about time to start winning again for our team,” Watson
said Thursday at a news conference at the Empire State Building.
”That’s the attitude that I hope that my players have.”
Watson will be by far the oldest man to fill the role and the
first repeat captain for the U.S. since 1987. But he knows how to
win in the blustery conditions of Scotland.
The Americans have lost seven of the last nine Ryder Cups and
have not won away from home since Watson was the captain at The
Belfry in England. They are coming off a staggering loss this year
at Medinah, where Europe strung together a remarkable rally from a
10-6 deficit going into the final day to win by one point.
Watson is the first repeat U.S. captain since Jack Nicklaus in
1987, when the Ryder Cup was played on his home course of Muirfield
Village in Ohio. Watson becomes the seventh American to get more
than one shot.
His selection received an immediate endorsement from Tiger
Woods. The Stanford alums have never been particularly close, and
Watson has criticized Woods for not showing respect for the game
with his demeanor on the course.
”I think he’s a really good choice,” Woods said in a
statement. ”Tom knows what it takes to win, and that’s our
ultimate goal. I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the
2014 United States team.”
Watson went out of his way Thursday to praise Woods as ”the
best player maybe in the history of the game.”
”My relationship with Tiger is fine,” he said. ”Whatever has
been said before is water under the bridge. No issues.”
Watson breaks the PGA of America’s prototype in a big way. The
eight-time major champion will be 65 when the Ryder Cup is played
in Scotland. Sam Snead was 57 when he was captain in 1969, and the
oldest European captain was John Jacobs (56) in 1981.
Watson predicted that some would say: ”Why is Watson, being the
old guy, being the captain?
”I deflect that very simply by saying: `We play the same
game,”’ he said. ”I play against these kids at the Masters. I
play against them at the British Open.”
He does hope to play more PGA Tour events in the next two years
to spend more time around his future team.
Watson has not been back to the Ryder Cup since that `93
victory. But since then, he had been pining for another chance to
serve as captain.
With that familiar gap-tooth grin, Watson recalled his reaction
when the PGA of America first contacted him more than a year ago:
”Boy, I’ve been waiting for this call for a long time.”
As much as Watson is beloved around the world for his timeless
game, epic duels with Nicklaus and graciousness in any outcome, the
Scots consider him one of their own. Watson won his first major at
Carnoustie in 1975 when he quickly understood how to play links
golf. He won five British Open titles, the most of any American,
with four of those in Scotland.
”I think we will agree that he is recognized as one of the top
players under challenging conditions, and we certainly hope that
that’s going to translate to our team,” PGA of America President
Ted Bishop said.
Watson nearly made it six claret jugs three years ago. At age
59, he came within an 8-foot par putt on the last hole from winning
at Turnberry. Watson missed the putt, and then lost to Stewart Cink
in a playoff.
The ovation he heard that week in Turnberry might be different
at Gleneagles. His job will be to help the players handle the
pressure of the hostile crowd and the enormity of the moment.
The PGA of America broke from its model of taking former major
champions in their late 40s who still play on the PGA Tour and are
in touch with the players. Watson last played a full schedule in
1998, though the PGA of America had to wonder if perhaps the young
captains were too close to the players.
Bishop first thought of Watson while flying back from Bermuda
after the 2011 PGA Grand Slam of Golf, when he read a book about
that near-miss at the British. When he first called, Watson was in
a field in South Dakota pheasant hunting.
A few blocks from Broadway on Thursday, Watson compared himself
to a stage manager with the job of putting his actors in best
position to succeed. He mentioned the importance of luck in winning
the Ryder Cup.
But he acknowledged that the good karma of his victories
overseas – and especially in Scotland – might be that little nudge
that returns the Americans to victory.
”It may give them a sense: `This guy has been there before and
he’s been successful before and we’re going to be a success because
he’s there leading us,”’ Watson said.
He expects he’ll help out in the most mundane of areas, such as
advice on how to adjust to the time change. At the 1981 Ryder Cup
at Walton Heath, Watson recalled, he cautioned Tom Kite not to
tweak his swing just because he felt lousy the first few days
there. Kite was glad he listened.
Watson dismissed talk that the Europeans were more motivated
than the Americans in recent years. What he heard from Davis Love
III, the captain at Medinah, was a team devastated by defeat.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.