Tom Watson at British Open
In what became the worst kept secret in golf for three days, Tom Watson was announced as Ryder Cup captain for the 2014 matches that will be played at Gleneagles in Scotland. Watson has won five Open Championships and nearly won a sixth in 2009 when he was in a playoff with Stewart Cink, the eventual champion, at Turnberry, the site of his victory over Jack Nicklaus in 1977.
“I’ve been waiting for this call for nearly 20 years,” Watson admitted. “I always wanted to be captain again and I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”
However, Watson made some news of his own with comments on Tiger Woods, on what he might do with picks and on his thinking as far as getting the cup back.
“ I hope Tiger, first of all, is on my team. He's the best player maybe in the history of the game. He brings a stature to the team that is unlike any other player on the team,” Watson said about Tiger Woods. He said if Woods was not on the team on points, he would be number one on Watson’s list of picks.
Then Watson hinted that maybe four picks were not the way to go: all that is on the table for discussion. He said he may want four picks, he may want three picks, he may want two picks. He pointed out that our record was better when we had fewer picks. He cited Hunter Mahan as an example of someone who missed the team because he was not on the team on points.
He also said he wants players who are playing well at the time. The change in the PGA Tour scheduling gets successful golfers playing beyond the PGA Championship into September and early October.
“The Europeans have outplayed us,” Watson said simply. “They want to win in the worst way.” He recalled a players meeting at the PGA Tour when a number of professionals were complaining until Jim Colbert stood up and said the solution to their complaints was to play better.
As Lanny Wadkins said on Golf Channel in response to potential announcement of Watson as a captain and comparing him to more recent captains, “It’s not about ping pong.”
Watson also said European teams were smart on their venue selection often choosing courses that are regularly played in European Tour events. That means the players are familiar with the course whereas the US players have to learn it in a hurry. “If the wind switches, we are playing a completely different golf course.”
When asked to critique past Ryder Cup captains, Watson said that every captain made the best decision he could at that moment in time. But in terms of a strategic course set up, he expects to see certain things.
“They set the green speed there and the pins,” Watson said. “Traditionally they have been a little slower (than our green speeds). Our players have had a hard time getting the ball to the hole.” He said he would have reports from the site as to what to expect from the greens in advance of the event.
Ted Bishop, current President of the PGA of America, also revealed that he had been lobbying for Watson as captain for more than a year, dating back to his return from the Grand Slam in 2011. He credited a book by the late Jim Huber on Watson’s play in 2009 in Scotland as the springboard for his thinking. However the final decision was made by the PGA within the last 30 days. Bishop said he reached Watson when he was hunting pheasant in South Dakota.
Watson was a successful captain in 1993, with his team retaining the cup won by Dave Stockton’s team in 1991. Watson’s playing record in Ryder Cup is 10-4-1.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.