EVER since Tom Watson was appointed as the United States captain for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, it’s been hard to quell growing concerns that Europe could respond by making a wrong decision when it comes to selecting the man he’ll lock horns with in Perthshire.
While Watson’s involvement in the event in a country where he’s treated as one of our ain is certainly welcome, there is no reason why it should change the thinking of the European Tour’s tournament committee when it meets in Abu Dhabi next week to consider the successor to Jose Maria Olazabal.
Darren Clarke, the main contender for the job along with fellow Irishman Paul McGinley, threw the first spanner in the works just before Christmas when he described Watson’s appointment as “a bolt from the blue” and suggested it may have forced Europe into a change of tact.
“Maybe we have to have a look and consider other people as well,” said the 2011 Open champion. “Whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Tom Watson needs a huge presence. We seriously need the right man for the job. We do have an [unwritten] rule where we don’t ask anybody to do it again, but we might have to look at that.”
While no names were actually mentioned by Clarke, it didn’t take a genius to work out that he was referring primarily to Colin Montgomerie, the man who led Europe to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010, having seen his appointment accelerated after being initially earmarked for the job at Gleneagles, close to where he now lives.
Monty would certainly provide that “presence” Clarke talks about and, despite Padraig Harrington saying he reckons the Scot would be “mad” to put his excellent Ryder Cup record on the line, having already proved himself once as a winning captain, I reckon the temptation would prove overpowering if he was asked to throw his hat into the ring again.
However, there should be no need for him to be asked that question. The Americans may have decided to rip up their captain’s criteria, picking a man who’ll be 65 when the contest comes around, having previously gone for someone in their 40s, but it’s nonsensical to start suggesting Europe should be swayed by that decision.
Watson’s presence in the team room will certainly inspire the Americans, but I believe he’d still be more of a threat to the home team at Gleneagles if he was actually hitting shots himself. So much is being made about Watson’s amazing record in Scotland, where he recorded four of his five Open Championship successes, that all the pressure is going to be on him to deliver a first US win on European soil since 1993.
Which is why the members of the aforementioned European Tour tournament committee should ignore Watson’s stature and concentrate on picking the best man for the job, something Montgomerie himself has stressed as being all-important when the decision is made.
Clarke remains the bookmakers’ favourite and, as a major winner, there’s no doubt the big Ulsterman would deserve to share the same stage with Watson. But, having expressed this view from the outset, I’m sticking to my guns by saying McGinley is that best man for the job this time around.
Forget the fact it would be a bit like David versus Goliath in terms of stature between him and Watson. Forget the fact also that McGinley doesn’t have a major title to his name and has only finished in the top five once on the money-list in 21 seasons on the European Tour.
Of more importance is the fact he’s been groomed for this position, having served under both Montgomerie and Olazabal as vice captain in the Ryder Cup and also proving himself on his own two feet when leading Great Britain & Ireland to victory over Continental Europe in the 2011 Vivendi Cup.
McGinley would leave no stone unturned in his bid to become a winning Ryder Cup captain as well and would quickly earn the respect of his opposite number, even though their paths will rarely have crossed due to a 17-year age gap. Having won seven of the last nine biennial bouts, this is no time for Europe to be making knee-jerk reactions to Watson’s appointment – and, sadly, tossing Sandy Lyle’s name into the hat next week would fall into that category. It’s simply too late now for one of the great ambassadors for European golf to be given his chance of the captaincy.
So let’s bite the bullet. Appoint McGinley for Gleneagles and, at the same time, let Clarke know he’ll be in charge at Hazeltine in 2016, when the Americans might even be rolling out Jack Nicklaus for a third stint as captain at the ripe old age of 76.
Club professionals urged to ‘embrace change’
AS golf clubs feel the pinch and look at cutting costs, the role of the club professional could be about to broaden as their expertise becomes more important than ever to paymasters.
While arrangements are individual, the majority of PGA professionals are paid retainers by clubs to provide a skilled service for the membership.
In the main, that has involved running well-stocked shops, re-gripping and tweaking clubs and also providing expert tuition for young and old. Normally the first point of contact when arriving at a golf club, the PGA professional has a hugely important role to play and, thanks to a splendid training programme, they rarely let their trade down. It seems certain, however, that more is going to be asked of club professionals in the future and, according to one of them, it is imperative they respond positively to any such requests.
“I think there are professionals who want to be that and nothing else – they don’t want to be involved in the managerial or secretarial side,” said Gordon Simpson, who doubles up as the head PGA pro and general manager at Hilton Park. “With the best will in the world, they are only weakening their own position. There has to be a change in mindset by some pros. They’ve got to embrace changes, rather than fighting them, because everyone needs to be working as a unit at golf clubs in these difficult times.”
Without question, this is going to be the toughest year yet for golf clubs in terms of membership numbers and, for starters, isn’t it about time that greenkeepers, or whoever, started to think twice about switching to winter greens and tees without thinking about the consequences that may have when it comes to paying annual fees?