Bubba Watson has played down the United States heading into next week’s Ryder Cup in France with one of the strongest-looking teams in the event’s history, insisting the match at Le Golf National will be decided by which side has the most players with “Ian Poulter’s heart” for the transatlantic tussle.
On the strength of world rankings alone, the Americans are justifiably favourites for only the second match to be played in Continental Europe, with Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth all currently inside the world’s top ten, as well as Watson, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Webb Simpson, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson sitting in the top 25.
Led by Jim Furyk on this occasion, the visitors are being widely fancied to record a first victory on European soil since last doing the trick at The Belfry in 1993, but Watson, for one, is not buying into talk of this match necessarily being the start of a “decade-plus of blowouts” for the Americans, as one US golf website claimed.
“All talk like that is hopeful,” the two-time Masters champion told The Scotsman. “We’ve talked about it in all sports. Your team can look great on paper. We could have the top one through 12 in the world rankings, but that doesn’t mean you are going to win. That just means you look good on paper.
“It comes down to pressure. Being a great team-mate. Being a great partner. Making those ten-footers under pressure. That’s what it comes down to. Ian Poulter [pictured inset], is the guy that stands out for me. Man, year after year, even when he was picked and looks as though he’s not playing his best, he finds a way in the Ryder Cup. His heart is bigger than anybody’s when it comes to this event.
“That’s what it is going to come down to, so it doesn’t matter what our team looks like on paper. It doesn’t matter who’s been winning tournaments in the build-up. Once you get to the Ryder Cup, it’s a different ball game.”
Watson is making his fourth appearance in the event, having qualified automatically this time around after the disappointment of missing out on being one of four picks made by Davis Love III for the 2016 contest at Hazeltine despite being the highest-ranked player not on the team for the match in Minnesota.
“It was very disappointing not to make that team,” admitted the left-hander who was given a non-playing vice-captain’s role.
“I was seventh in the world at the time, after all. I understand that I was sick, losing 25lbs, so my golf at the time wasn’t as good as it needed to be. For me, it was a wake-up call. Being a vice captain was very big. To be part of the team – and a winning team as I’ve not been on a winning team before – was great. My focus at the time was on getting better, but being part of that was an honour.”
Summing up his own passion for the Ryder Cup compared to the majors, Watson added: “It’s way past those [the majors]. It’s very rare. Every year there’s a Masters. Every year there are four majors. Every two years there’s a Ryder Cup. There’s also the fact it’s a team event.
“You have to play excellent golf to make the team. That means your two years leading up have to be good. It’s an honour just to make the team. But even better is the chance to lift that little trophy. There’s no money. There’s no world rankings. There’s no FedEx Cup points. There’s nothing.
“It’s just a little trophy and we want it so bad. It’s something that I’ve grown to love through being a part of teams, both as a player and a vice-captain.
“I want a ‘W’ on my record as a player. If I play on ten Ryder Cups, I don’t care if I lose nine. I just want to be part of one winning team.”
l Bubba Watson wears G/Fore shoes and glove (www.gfore.com)