Tom Watson attends a news conference in New York, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. The Americans are bringing back Watson as their Ryder Cup golf captain with hopes of ending two decades of losing in Europe. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Thursday, December 13, 2012 5:13 pm
Watson was an elementary choice for Ryder Cup
By DOUG FERGUSONAP Golf Writer
They're the ones who built the box in the first place.
With due respect to Larry Nelson, who has more reason than ever to believe he will never be a captain, and David Toms, who looked to be the best option inside the box, it's tough to argue against Watson as the perfect pick for the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland.
This is not so much a risk as a break from tradition. If there's a complaint, it might be what took the PGA of America so long.
"I was waiting about 20 years to get the call," Watson said.
It came at the right time. The 2014 matches will be played in Scotland, which treats Watson as one of its own. That's where he won four of his five British Open titles, and he embraced everything about the home of golf. And even as the captain of the enemy team, Watson has a short history of playing well before a crowd that wanted the other guys to win - the "Duel in the Sun" against Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977, and his chip-in on the 17th at Pebble Beach that denied Nicklaus a record fifth U.S. Open.
Once the PGA of America finally got out of its box, Watson was the logical choice.
For too many years, there was a feeling that a Ryder Cup captain had to be a major champion in his late 40s - old enough that he probably wouldn't qualify for the team, young enough to still be playing on the PGA Tour so that he would have a pulse on the players, their skills and their personalities.
Watson will be 65 when the 2014 matches are played in Scotland, making him the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history.
Is he still in touch with today's game?
One answer came Sunday in Sydney when Watson had the lowest score of the final round (69) in the Australian Open. He offered an even stronger answer Thursday in the Empire State Building without even being asked.
"The idea of being captain for a team of youngsters will be questioned," Watson said. "I deflect that very simply by saying we play the same game. I play against these kids at the Masters. I play against them at the British Open, the Greenbrier Classic. We play the same game, and they understand that. I understand that."
The other question about the selection was his relationship with Tiger Woods, which shouldn't be a factor and won't be.
In the months after Woods was caught having extramarital affairs, Watson didn't mince words when he said it was time for Woods to show a little more humility and "clean up his act." Privately, Watson had been on Woods for his language on the golf course, even before Woods' personal life came undone.
Woods might hold grudges over little things, but he tends to take the high road on weightier matters. It was not surprising to see him issue a statement, just minutes after Watson was introduced on the "Today" show, to congratulate Watson and say that "I think he's a really good choice."
"Tom knows what it takes to win, and that's our ultimate goal," Woods said, adding that he hoped to have the "privilege" of playing for him.
Watson returned praise to Woods that was even more effusive.
"He's the best player maybe in the history of the game," Watson said. "He brings a stature to the team that is unlike any other player on the team. And if he's not on the team for any unforeseen reason ... you can bet that he's going to be No. 1 on my pick list. My relationship with Tiger is fine. Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge. No issues."
Any American team is better off when Woods' presence is minimized. Through no fault of his own, his stature is such that every U.S. team tends to be looked upon as Tiger Woods and 11 other guys. In Scotland, this will be Watson's team.
One overrated aspect of having Watson as captain is that he is far enough removed from these players that he won't coddle them, allowing them to dictate who they want as partners and when they want to play. That's easy to identify as a problem in defeat. It worked just fine for Davis Love III when the Americans had a 10-6 lead going into the last day at Medinah. If not for Ian Poulter's five straight birdies or Justin Rose making a 35-foot putt, that's not even an issue.
You want a captain who calls all the shots? That didn't work out very well for Hal Sutton, who was saddled with a team in poor form.
No matter who is captain, the players still decide who gets the gold trophy.
"The most important thing is for me as a captain is to get lucky," Watson said. "I just hope I get lucky and that happens, that the players that are coming there are all playing well, and that we're playing as a team, it will put us in a good chance of winning the tournament."
Most fascinating is the man indirectly responsible for Watson being considered - the late Jim Huber, a respected, cheerful television commentator and essayist with a passion for golf and a good story. Huber, who died in January of leukemia, wrote a book called, "Four Days in July," about Watson coming within an 8-foot putt of winning the 2009 British Open at Turnberry when he was 59.
Huber's last golf assignment was the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda. He gave PGA of America officers a copy of his book before he left. Ted Bishop, appointed last month as PGA president, knew he was going to be in charge of picking next the captain. He read the book on the flight from Bermuda, and he called Huber with a question when he got home.
"What would you think of Tom Watson as Ryder Cup captain in Scotland in 2014?"
For all the fuss over Nelson and Toms not getting a call about the selection of a captain, turns out they were never under serious consideration. The PGA of America was looking for the right man for the right time. And once it stepped outside its box, the choice was obvious.