Why Tom Watson Isn't the Answer as US Ryder Cup Captain
Tom Watson is one of the great gentlemen in the history of golf.
He played the game hard and very well, winning eight major championships and has become a great ambassador for the game much like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
His selection this morning as captain of the 2014 United States Ryder Cup team has raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
With the United States having lost seven of the last nine of the biennial matches, the PGA of America obviously felt that something drastic was needed. Appointing a golf great who will be 65 years old in 2014 is definitely drastic.
Here are five reasons why naming Watson isn’t the answer for the U.S. Ryder cup team.
Captain's Role Exaggerated
It has long been my feeling that far too much is made about the captain’s role in this competition.
Picking the team isn’t that monumental of a task, considering a point system automatically determines the first eight players on the team. The captain’s picks rarely come from anywhere except the next four spots on the points list.
Picking uniform styles and making players aware of social and team responsibilities take some time. Even the strategy part of the Ryder Cup, i.e., who plays with whom, is decided mostly on player preferences.
The players still have to perform and produce and seven of the last nine times this event has been held, they haven’t. Making a 65-year-old like Tom Watson the captain isn't going to change that.
Is Tom Watson Still in Touch with Today's PGA Tour Players?
I understand naming a 65-year-old captain instead of a 40-something captain is a radical move by the PGA of America.
It’s thinking outside the box and that’s something that golf’s ruling bodies rarely do.
And while we know that combining a 40-something guy with a team of 20 and 30-year-olds hasn’t been particularly successful, I can’t come up with a list of reasons why the 65-year-old guarantees any better success.
Golf is golf, but will Tom Watson really be able to find the key to get into the minds of Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan to make them Ryder Cup stars?
While he still occasionally competes on the PGA Tour, it stands to reason he can’t be in touch with what’s going on there as much as he used to be.
Can Tom Watson Teach His Team the Intracacies of Links Golf?
Tom Watson won eight major titles, five of those Open Championships, arguably making him the best links champion ever.
He almost won a sixth in 2009, save for an eight-foot par putt missed on the 72nd hole. All of that is wonderful and he deserves his special place in the annals of the game.
The question to me is: Will Watson be able to pass on his passionate feelings about links-style golf and how to play it properly to a dozen head-strong younger men who, deep in their hearts, feel as though they invented the game?
And because Watson’s performance across the ocean set the bar so high, how will he handle the frustration of his team not being able to be nearly as proficient at this kind of game as he was?
Watson's Win or Else Mentality Might Be a Tough Sell
Over the years, United States teams have been criticized for not having fun, not embracing the spirit of the Ryder Cup like the European teams.
And, indeed, look at the faces and body language of the boys in red, white and blue and most of the time it’s the look of not having a good time.
Well, with Watson’s tenacity and bulldog approach to the game, I don’t believe there will be much concern over the boys having a good time.
Watson will show up at Gleneagles with a single purpose: To kick European butt all around the heather and gorse on those Scottish links.
In 1993, Watson stirred up a fuss at a dinner when he refused to sign the dinner menu of his counterpart, Sam Torrance. He said he didn’t want his team disturbed by such frivolity.
Again, it’s a different generation with a different attitude about themselves and events like this. Captains have tried a variety of things to encourage U.S. players to perform better.
His bulldog style may not work with this generation of players.
Pressure May Be Too Much for Watson
You wouldn’t think pressure would often be included in the same sentence as Tom Watson.
The man won 70 professional events worldwide, 39 of them on the PGA Tour.
He was a ferocious competitor, who really didn’t succumb to the nerves and pressure of putting until the latter stages of his career.
He was a very popular player in the United States and is revered on the other side of the ocean as well.
So while any captain carries with him the pressure of being the leader of his country’s team, Watson’s bag will be doubly filled.
At age 65, how will he handle what’s waiting for him in Scotland?