Ryder Cup: Wisdom of Tom Watson to the fore

Tom Watson is relishing the opportunity to put his leadership skills to the test in Scotland this week. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Tom Watson is relishing the opportunity to put his leadership skills to the test in Scotland this week. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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ONCE he gets the housekeeping out of the way, Tom Watson is ready to become a father figure to his American players this week.

It should have been no surprise, really, to hear that Watson isn’t too keen on the logistical baggage that comes with being Ryder Cup captain. Twenty-one years after he last held the post, the list of dos and don’ts has probably doubled in size.

Even though they looked weary after an overnight flight from Atlanta, Watson’s eyes lit up when he started talking about the sort of advice that can help America win at Gleneagles this week.

“For our team, the first task is to get the jet-lag out of the way and I basically told them, ‘don’t worry about your golf swings for the next couple of days’. I’ve told them to get their body on time first and by Thursday or Friday that’s when the focus and that golf swing should start to occur.

“That was good advice I gave to Tom Kite in ’81 (at Walton Heath). It was his first Ryder Cup overseas and I said, ‘you’re going to be jet-lagged and you’re like me. If you’re not swinging well, you want to change something’. I said, ‘don’t change a thing, just wait for your body to wake up’.”

It was Sandy Lyle who paid the price for those words of wisdom. Despite being seven-under, the Scot was thumped by Kite. “He made ten birdies and won 8&7,” added Watson. “After the match, he came over and said, ‘Tom, I think you were right’.”

It’s hard to imagine Watson saying anything wrong to his players in the build-up to Friday’s start. At 65, he may be from a different generation to his 12 charges, but he’s a shrewd cookie and still knows the Ryder Cup inside out.

“In my own personal experience, I felt more playing in the Ryder Cup (than a major), I did,” said the five-times Open champion. “But I also felt more pressure as a captain in 1993 than I did as a player. When you don’t have any real effect on the outcome, you’re just caught in no man’s land and the pressure builds on you.”

Watson has come to Scotland to win, just as he did every time he set foot in the home of golf as a player. To be captain again in this country above any other is an honour he’s cherishing.

“I’m very happy to be here in the role of being a Ryder Cup captain,” he said, those eyes lighting up again. “Just being in Scotland again is very special to me as I have somewhat of an affinity for Scotland, having done pretty well in a few tournaments in years past.”

Some of those successes weren’t recorded in the favourable weather that greeted the Americans on their arrival in Edinburgh. “It’s great to be back and if you can assure me of the Scottish weather staying like this for the next six days, I’d really appreciate it,” he said of the pleasant day.

As soon as he sets foot on the PGA Centenary Course today to oversee his team’s first practice round, Watson will be revered by the Scottish fans in a way that perhaps only Seve Ballesteros could relate to when he played in the home of golf.

Once the gun goes off on Friday morning, though, the American captain is preparing to see that affection be cast aside for three days – and he wouldn’t want it any other way. “Not in the least,” he replied to being asked if affinity for him meant the home fans would take it easy on the Americans.

“What makes the Ryder Cup so great is the partisan nature of it and the crowds here are wonderful. The singing and cheering is something special and I’ll tell the rookies, ‘you will feel the electricity’.

“You feel the electricity of the Ryder Cup as you are out on the golf course. When you’re not on the golf course you can hear it. The only thing that compares to it, I think, is Augusta National. When you’re up at the clubhouse, you hear the roars down at 13 and 15 and they reverberate through the pine trees. You hear those roars in the Ryder Cup and it’s just electric.”

The crowd generating that electricity will be Europe’s 13th man here. According to Watson, though, the Americans have one, too. “Even though he’s not on the team, he’s here in spirit,” he said of the absent Tiger Woods.