An organization that is not shy about giving rock-star treatment to the Ryder Cup, the PGA of America said it would reveal the next U.S. captain during a segment Thursday of NBC's morning show, followed by a news conference in the Empire State Building. NBC is the longtime broadcast partner of the Ryder Cup.
Golf Digest cited sources it did not identify in reporting the PGA of America planned to pick Watson.
"We look forward to sharing the news of the 2014 Ryder Cup captain on Thursday," PGA spokesman Julius Mason said when asked for comment.
Watson would be 65 when the 2014 Ryder Cup is played at Gleneagles, Scotland, making him the oldest U.S. captain in history. He also would be the first American to repeat as captain since Jack Nicklaus in 1987 when the matches were played on his home course of Muirfield Village.
Watson, however, is revered in Scotland, where he captured four of his five British Open titles. He also was the captain in 1993, the last time the Americans won the Ryder Cup away from home.
The decision to take Watson is a major departure from the PGA of America's model of selecting former major champions in their late 40s who still play at least sparingly on the PGA Tour.
Watson said over the weekend at the Australian Open that it would be a "great honor if I got tapped on the shoulder." Watson, who came within an 8-foot putt of winning the British Open at Turnberry in 2009 when he was 59, said in Sydney he had not spoken to PGA of America officials.
For the PGA to pick a veteran of Watson's age would be to overlook Larry Nelson for the second time. Nelson is a three-time major champion - twice at the PGA Championship - who had 9-3-1 record in the Ryder Cup and won all five of his matches in 1979, beating Seve Ballesteros in four of those matches. At least two former captains have lobbied the PGA on behalf of Nelson, who was in line to be a captain in the 1990s.
Nelson is scheduled to play in the Father-Son Challenge pro-am Thursday and Friday in Orlando, Fla.
For the last 30 years, it was easy to predict the next American captain. The PGA of America tended to choose a former major champion still moderately active on the PGA Tour, which keeps him in touch with the current players. That ordinarily would point toward former PGA champion David Toms, though there has been discussion among PGA officials over the last month that Toms could wait until 2016 without any future candidate, such as Jim Furyk or Phil Mickelson, losing his turn.
Europe has captured the Ryder Cup seven of the last nine times, including a stunning rally at Medinah two months ago when it overcame a 10-6 deficit on the final day. Davis Love III, the American captain, said he wouldn't change anything about the week except for the outcome.
Love said last month he wouldn't mind being captain again, but only if there was a gap down the road, and not in 2014.
"I can guarantee you it won't be me," Love said about the next captain.
Paul Azinger was captain of the only U.S. team to win the Ryder Cup in the last 13 years, using a unique system of "pods" in which players were broken into groups of four. He said in a text message to The Associated Press he had not been in touch with the PGA of America.
Watson told reporters in Australia he had not been back to the Ryder Cup since those '93 matches at The Belfry.
"I'd like to go back as captain," Watson said. "That would be cool."
But it might not be ideal for America's most famous player - Tiger Woods - who has a frosty relationship with Watson, even though both are Stanford alumni. Watson was highly critical in the aftermath of Woods' personal life crisis, saying he needed to show more humility and fewer tantrums.
"I think he needs to clean up his act and show the respect for the game that other people before him have shown," Watson said in early 2010.