Strange backs Watson over Ryder Cup reconnaissance

Tom Watson: Seeking advantageTom Watson: Seeking advantage
Tom Watson: Seeking advantage
TOM Watson deserves praise, not criticism, over the fact a reconnaissance mission to Gleneagles next weekend is likely to involve a small scouting party, according to a former Ryder Cup captain.

From the “20 or so” offered invitations by the man who will captain the American side at the Perthshire venue in September, only “four or five players” have accepted so far.

Watson organised the trip to give potential members of his team an opportunity to get a feel for the PGA Centenary Course before the week of the biennial event.

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Of those bidding to make that side, world No 10 Jordan Spieth is the only one that has played it in competition – in his case, in the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup.

In stark contrast, all the contenders for Europe’s team, perhaps with the exception of Luke Donald, have teed up there on at least one occasion in the Johnnie Walker Championship – in some cases, lots of times.

That being the case, Curtis Strange, who captained the Americans at The Belfry in 2002 after playing in five Ryder Cups, can see why Watson has organised such a trip, but he dismissed the notion that the likelihood of the party being so small was either a snub or a lackadaisical American attitude towards the Ryder Cup.

Strange, the two-times US Open champion, who was speaking on behalf of Standard Life Investments, worldwide partner of the Ryder Cup, insisted it was purely down to heavy playing schedules.

“I’m assuming most of the European players are used to playing the course here at Gleneagles, so it makes a difference knowing the golf course,” Strange told The Scotsman.

“However, I’m not surprised that more American guys aren’t coming over next week with Tom. In fact, I’m surprised that four or five them are coming over.

“I say that from the standpoint that they all have such busy schedules these days. If they make the team, they will be ready to play the best they possibly can in the Ryder Cup.

“Yes, that is a big week in the season. Right now, though, they have their own careers to think about and their families and kids as well.

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“With the Scottish Open and then The Open coming up, it would be a big commitment for anyone to fit something like that into their schedule.”

Watson, who would not divulge the identities of those asked to join him at Gleneagles, understands the reasons why the majority of them will be unable to be there. “Most of them can’t make it because they’re playing either the Scottish Open or the John Deere Classic,” he said.

Phil Mickelson is defending his Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored title at Royal Aberdeen, where the American contingent also includes Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler, both currently sitting in automatic spots in the qualifying race.

“I thought that was a good thing to do as it gives our players the chance to see the course at least once before they get there or potentially get there,” said Watson of his scouting trip. “It also gives them a chance to get used to the time change going over to the Open Championship.”

Since the day he was appointed, the five-times Open champion has acknowledged the upper hand Europe will have in the match due to their familiarity with the course that is staging Scotland’s first Ryder Cup since the 1973 clash at Muirfield.

“I think the Europeans have an advantage on that golf course,” he admitted once more. “Some of the European players have played that golf course in competition, played it four, five, six times, maybe 12 times. That’s just the way the Europeans pick their Ryder Cup sites. It’s usually a site where they’ve held the European Tour tournament, so their players are more familiar.”

It is likely Tiger Woods, who missed the first two majors of the year as he recovered from back surgery, will be heading straight to Hoylake next weekend to prepare for the Open Championship.