TOM Watson has revealed plans to visit Gleneagles with potential members of his Ryder Cup team immediately after this year’s Open Championship at Hoylake on Merseyside.
With the exception of European Tour duo Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka, it’s unlikely that a single player vying to make the American team for September’s match has set foot on the PGA Centenary Course.
In contrast, a number of those likely to be on the European side defending the trophy will know it like the back of their hand, through playing in the Johnnie Walker Championship and its other guises back to 1999.
That’s something Watson is well aware of as he bids to mend the broken American hearts from the last match at Medinah and halt a run that has seen the Europeans win seven of the last nine contests.
Watson himself paid a flying visit to the Perthshire venue after playing in last year’s Open Championship at Muirfield and now he’s urging those hoping to make his team to do likewise this summer so they are not seeing the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout for the first time in the week of the match.
“We are going to offer the course on the Monday, maybe the Tuesday, after the Open Championship at Hoylake, get them up there, have a chance to play the golf course and see it. We are going to give them the opportunity,” said the American captain. “Don’t ask me who is going to do that. I don’t know yet. We can start talking about who is going to be on the team, but these major championship points are really going to change this list a lot. I don’t know who is going to be up there, but we will offer that to the players.”
Watson was speaking as he announced four-times major winner Ray Floyd as his second vice-captain for the match. The appointment means the combined age of the US backroom team will be 201, with Watson set to be 65 by then, Floyd 72 and Andy North 64. It’s led to the trio being dubbed a golfing “Dad’s Army”, but Watson is brushing off any concerns about an age barrier as he bids to lead the Americans to a first win on foreign soil since he achieved the feat at The Belfry in 1993.
“I’ve already been asked if I’m too old to be a Ryder Cup captain and the way I answer that – and I believe this with all my heart – is that these players know Raymond, Andy and myself,” said the five-times Open champion. “We’ve been there. We know what the Ryder Cup pressure is all about. We’ve played under the pressure. Raymond and I have been captains. We know what’s going on.
“And to have that respect and the trust from the players that we know what’s going on, that can help them.
“The age difference is actually kind of like a professor. You go to learn from a professor. He’s been there, he knows he has the experience. He has the knowledge, the experience and the knowledge, and that’s what we bring as captains and vice- captains to the Ryder Cup.”
One thing Watson is adamant neither he nor his two vice-captains will need to do is motivate the American players. He reckons the last day at Medinah, where Europe won 14½-13½ after matching the biggest fightback in the event’s history, should take care of that aspect of their job.
“They will not have to be inspired,” he insisted. “The motivation is there – the fact that we lost the last one. We had a big lead and we lost it. If that’s not motivation enough for the players of the 2014 Ryder Cup team, then we’re spinning our wheels.”
Adored by Scottish golf fans throughout his career, Watson admitted he will be in the strange position of trying to give the galleries little to cheer about on 26-28 September. It’s something he managed just over 20 years ago at The Belfry and relayed a story about the late Payne Stewart to illustrate the type of thing he’ll be hammering home to his players in the US team room at Gleneagles.
“Going up the last hole following Raymond [Floyd] in the last match, Payne came up to me and he slapped me on the shoulder and said something that I had related to the team that [legendary American basketball coach] Roy Williams had told me,” he recalled. “When I asked Roy, ‘how do you coach somebody?’, he said, ‘when we go to an away game, Tom, I tell players two things: the first thing is to make the crowd go silent during the game and the second is to watch them leave early when they are beaten’.
“When Payne slapped me on the back, he said, ‘Captain, look at the stands up there’. He didn’t have to say they were half-empty. That’s a feeling that I want to have again this year.”