TOM Watson says he has been waiting nearly 20 years for the call asking him to be America’s Ryder Cup captain again.
And, after his appointment for the 2014 match at Gleneagles was confirmed, Watson thanked The Scotsman for reminding him that old foe Jack Nicklaus might be willing to give him some inside information on the PGA Centenary Course, which he designed.
In a massive boost for the event’s return to Scotland for the first time since Muirfield in 1973, Watson’s surprise appointment as Davis Love III’s successor was announced yesterday at a media conference hosted by the PGA of America at the Empire State Building in New York.
At 63 – he’ll be 65 by the time the biennial joust comes around – Watson is the oldest captain in the event’s history and also joins a select group to lead the US team more than once, the eight-times major winner having led the US to victory at The Belfry in 1993, the last time they triumphed away from home.
Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, said he had turned to Watson due to the US being “really tired” of losing the Ryder Cup but revealed the appointment had not been a knee-jerk reaction to them suffering a fifth defeat in six matches as Europe staged a memorable last-day fightback to retain the trophy at Medinah in September.
“This is the culmination of something that we have been working on for a year,” said Bishop.
Confirming that to be the case, Watson said he’d always harboured hopes he might be asked to do the job again, even though the PGA of America’s recent policy has been to pick a major winner in their late 40s and to restricting the role to a one-match stint.
“I was waiting for this call for almost 20 years,” said five-time Open champion Watson. “I loved it the first time and I wanted to do it another time. I’ve been a great fan of the Ryder Cup and have always watched it. I get the same gut feeling just watching it at home on TV. It’s a great honour to do it again and this time it is going to be 14-and-a-half points [the format has changed since 1993].”
Watson is revered in Scotland, where he lifted the Claret Jug four times and came close to recording a fairytale win in the world’s oldest major at the age of 59 at Turnberry three years ago, losing in a play-off to Stewart Cink after a double-bogey 6 at the 72nd hole.
Bishop said Watson’s “record in Scotland” was one of the reasons he was picked to try to turn the tide for America and the newly-appointed captain is certainly looking forward to leading his side in Perthshire.
Watson has already been on the Gleneagles website for a virtual tour of the course and has encouraged potential members of his team to try to play there in person, raising the possibility that next year’s Johnnie Walker Championship could be in for a boost in top-level entries. Asked by The Scotsman if he felt his enormous level of success in the home of golf – he’s also won three Senior Open Championships in Scotland – would place extra pressure on his shoulders in 2014, Watson said: “That I’ve done well over there will maybe help my team members be a little bit more calm. They’ll know that I understand how the game is played in Scotland and they can come to me with questions about the golf course.
“I wouldn’t expect too many questions like that, though. While I’ll be the stage manager, these guys are the actors and they’ll go out and figure the course out for themselves. But, having a guy there who’s been successful in Scotland before will hopefully help them think they can be successful as well.”
Asked if he thought he’d be getting in touch with Nicklaus, who both designed the initial layout that was subsequently re-named the PGA Centenary Course and has made the most recent changes to it, Watson raised a laugh with his audience by replying: “Yes, I do. Thanks for the thought.
“I will obviously visit the course – my first one will probably be sometime next year – and I’ll play it and see the facility before we go there in 2014. I hope that some of the players will do that, too. I’ll try to inspire them to go and play the course, maybe once or twice before the match – I think that’s important.”
While Watson’s age for such a role – he’ll be three years older than Great Britain’s J H Taylor (1933) and eight older than American Sam Snead (1969) – has been called into question, especially with the whole scale of the Ryder Cup having grown since he was last involved in the event, his answer to that was as straight to the point as he has always been.
“The responsibility is a challenge but I’ve been there before and I welcome it,” he added. “The idea of being captain for a team of youngsters will be questioned. Why is Watson, an old guy, being the captain? I deflect that very simply by saying: ‘We play the same game’. I play against these kids at The Masters. I play against them at the British Open and the Greenbrier Classic. We play the same game – they understand that.
“It’s my challenge to maybe set the stage with a little bit of inspiration for them to go out along with some ‘Watson luck’ that I think propelled us to victory in 1993. It’s going to be a great journey these next couple of years and I hope that we will change the tide of losing the Ryder Cup seven of the last nine matches. We’re tired of losing. I always said that, early in my career, I learned to win by hating to lose. It’s about time to start winning again – that’s the attitude I hope my players have.”
While Watson will take some time to decide how many wildcard picks he’ll want – Love had four and the new man said that offered “too much latitude” – and also the identity and quantity of his assistant captains, he laid his cards on the table straight away regarding Tiger Woods. In recent years, few people have been more critical of the 14-times major winner than Watson, but he wants Woods on his team at Gleneagles.
“My relationship with Tiger is fine,” he insisted. “Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge. He’s the best player maybe in the history of the game. He brings a stature to the team unlike any other player. If he’s not on the team for any unforseen reason [not qualifying automatically], I’m sure you can bet he’s going to be number one on my pick list.”
Woods wasted no time in agreeing there is no bad blood between the pair. In a statement, he said: “I’d like to congratulate Tom Watson on his selection as Ryder Cup captain. I think he’s a really good choice. 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.”
RYDER CUP RECORD
AS A PLAYER
Caps: 4. Played: 15. Won: 10. Halved: 1. Lost: 4.
1977: Watson & Nicklaus bt Horton & James 5&4 (foursomes), Watson & Green bt Barnes & Horton 5&4 (fourballs), lost to Faldo 1 hole (singles).
1981: Watson & Nicklaus bt Oosterhuis & Faldo 4&3 (foursomes), Watson & Nicklaus bt Canizares & Smyth 3&2 (fourballs), Watson & Nicklaus bt Langer & Pinero 3&2 (foursomes), lost to Clark 4&3 (singles).
1983: Watson & Crenshaw bt Gallacher & Lyle 5&4 (foursomes), Watson & Haas bt Faldo & Langer 2&1 (fourballs), Watson & Gilder bt Torrance & Woosnam 5&4 (fourballs), Watson & Gilder lost to Ballesteros & Way 2&1 (foursomes), bt Gallacher 2&1 (singles).
1989: Watson & Beck halved with Ballesteros & Olazabal (foursomes), Watson & O’Meara lost to Ballesteros & Olazabal 6&5 (fourballs), bt Torrance 3&1 (singles).
1993: At The Belfry. United States won 15-13 in an intriguingly close contest. Davis Love III secured victory for the visitors by defeating Constantino Rocca by 1 hole. It remains the last time the US won in Europe.