Ted Bishop, the PGA of America’s president, has admitted he’ll be either a “genius or an idiot” over his decision to hatch the plan to appoint Tom Watson as the American captain for next year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
Speaking on the eve of a series of “Year to Go” events, which start this morning when Watson and his European counterpart Paul McGinley share a steam-train journey from Edinburgh to Gleneagles, Bishop conceded the move, which will see Watson become the fixture’s oldest captain at 65, is a “gamble”.
After watching the Americans lose six of the last eight encounters and fail to win on foreign soil since Watson led his side to victory at The Belfry in 1993, however, he reckons it was time to try something different and, for him, the five-time Open champion was the only man for the job in the home of golf.
“When I came in as president, my first order of business was (appointing) the Ryder Cup captain and where we needed to go and I made a case that 2014 was a unique set of circumstances,” said Bishop of an idea he came up with more than two years ago, involved in an 85-page document being prepared by him and was set in motion after he had tracked Watson down on a pheasant hunting trip in South Dakota.
“We’re going to Scotland, first and foremost, and there hasn’t been a player in modern-day history that’s had a better record in Scotland than Tom. Essentially, he’s won seven majors [four Opens and three Senior Opens] there. He’s endeared by the people there, too. Some would jokingly say that if anyone can neutralise the crowd to a degree, then it might be Tom.
“It would be great for the US to win [at Gleneagles] and, if we can do it with a 65-year-old captain, it opens the door for us for a whole host of future captains [instead of keeping to a tradition of appointing a PGA Tour player in his late 40s]. It’s a gamble. If we don’t win people will look at us a say ‘wow, you’ve lost eight of the last ten and you’ve pulled out all the stops, what are you going to do now?’ I’ll either be a genius or an idiot this time next year. I’m confident. I feel good about the decision, win or lose.”
Speaking at Slaley Hall, where he was taking in the PGA Cup before travelling to Edinburgh last night for the start of the events marking the milestone in the countdown to the first Ryder Cup in Scotland for more than 40 years, Bishop revealed that Watson had accepted the captaincy without a hint of hesitation.
“He said: ‘I’ve been waiting on this call for years. I’d love to do it again.’ I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised,” added the director of golf at The Legends club in Franklin, Indiana.
“What impressed me [as he worked secretly on his plan] was that I talked to Corey Pavin and Jim Gallagher, who played in 1993, and there were claims that the teams had the bags in the locker-room and someone switched a bunch of wedges.
“Payne Stewart was out in the first match and just before he got to the tee it was discovered he had 15 clubs in the bag. Our players were all riled up as the clubs were supposed to be all locked up and secure. But Watson just took control. He said: ‘This is my problem, let me handle it.’ And they never heard anything more about it.
“They also talked about being on the flight over that year and Tom getting up and addressing the team and saying, ‘we’re going to a part of the world where they invented the game of golf but let’s remind them that we’re coming from a part of the world that perfected the game’.
“When they got off that plane, there was a feeling that ‘Tom is our captain and there is no way we are going to lose with him as our leader’. I don’t think anybody will tell Tom Watson what to do. He’s got one goal and that is to win the Ryder Cup back. He’s tired of losing. He’s talked about that.
“After 2012 [Europe’s ‘Miracle at Medinah’], he still had a sick feeling in his gut. He’s still engaged, he’s still playing in the majors and all that. He emails every week and he is totally in tune with what is going on. Could Tom help get a point a half? He might just do that and look how close the last 15 Ryder Cups have been. Nine have been decided by two points or less, seven of them by one or less.”
While confident Watson can work his magic with the US players on the PGA Centenary Course, Bishop shares his compatriot’s respect for McGinley, the first Irishman to be appointed as Europe’s captain for the biennial event.
“When I called Paul to congratulated him, he said it was an honour to captain against Tom as Tom was his idol. He told me he played college golf in the US and went up to the tour stop in San Diego and watched him in the practice round.
“At the same time, I came off the phone and thought he’s as sly as a fox. What he has done is cast himself in the role of the underdog.
“It’s smart and it’s clever. He’s a very bright guy. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Europe have proven that having a major champion as captain is no big deal, it’s more important to have a captain that’s been good at international team play.”