Watson opting for ‘experience’ in Ryder Cup team

Tom Watson had Raymond Floyd on his winning US team at The Belfry in 1993. Picture: Jane Barlow
Tom Watson had Raymond Floyd on his winning US team at The Belfry in 1993. Picture: Jane Barlow
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TOM Waton, set to become the oldest Ryder Cup captain at the age of 65, has sprung a surprise by selecting someone even older as the second of his assistant captains for September’s match at Gleneagles.

But Ray Floyd, who will be 72 by the time the joust comes around, will be heading to Perthshire as a right-hand man to Watson, along with Andy North, boasting an impressive record in the biennial event.

In ten matches as a player, assistant captain and captain, four-times major winner Floyd has racked up seven wins and two draws, his sole defeat coming as a player in the 1985 match at The Belfry.

Floyd, winner of 66 career titles, retired from competitive golf on the eve of the 2010 Masters, so his appointment is likely to cause eyebrows to be raised. But the same could easily have been said when Paul Azinger handed him the same role at Valhalla in 2008 and that decision helped the Americans record their only win in the event in the last six matches.

Floyd served as captain himself in the 1989 match at The Belfry, where he famously introduced his American side at a gala dinner as “the 12 greatest players in the world”. Nick Faldo, for one, was irritated by that and the match ended 14-14.

Four years later, Floyd returned to the Sutton Coldfield venue as a player at the age of 51 – the event’s oldest competitor – and picked up three points as a team led by Watson won 15-13.

That was the Americans’ last triumph on this side of the Atlantic and now the pair are set to be reunited as Scotland stages the event for the first time since the Muirfield match in 1973 – four years after Floyd made his playing debut in a 16-16 draw at Royal Birkdale.

“Raymond brings a tremendous amount of experience,” said Watson at a press conference in Los Angeles ahead of this week’s Northern Trust Open at Rivieria. “I played for him in 1989 and chose him in 1993 to be my at-large pick. He performed admirably. You look in Raymond’s eyes, and you never see his eyes waver. They have a focus you like to see. No matter if he’s shooting 80 or 65. The way he played the game was that every shot counts.”

“What Raymond Floyd brings is his experience and respect of the players,” added Watson of the two-times USPGA champion and Hall-of-Famer. “When they look at Raymond, they know he has been there. They know he’s been successful. They know he wants to win. And we don’t need anything else. He’s been there. He has the stories to share and understands what the pressure is like. He will see how nervous they get and be able to talk to them and tell them, ‘This is what I did, and maybe you can do the same thing.’”

Watson, who seems reluctant or, alternatively, is being discouraged by the PGA of America due to politics to have Fred Couples on his backroom team despite his three successes as Presidents Cup captain, had already appointed North, a two-times US Open champion and now an ESPN golf commentator, as the first of his assistant captains last summer.

“You want to create an environment that players are comfortable with,” said the American captain. “They will help the players out and help me determine a lot of different variables that go into choosing my three captain’s picks and also on site to help with info on the players and how they are playing.”

Floyd said of his role: “I’m flattered and it’s going to be a thrill to have his back. I think it will be a lot of fun. Tom is the captain and he, and we as vice-captains, don’t hit a shot. Our responsibility is to see that these guys are comfortable, that they are happy. We need to be an uplifting spirit, if you like.”

Watson will announce his three captain’s picks on 2 September – the same day as his European counterpart, Paul McGinley, will do likewise at Wentworth.