Tom Watson’s selection as the U.S. Ryder Cup captain for 2014 in Scotland means that the team will have a leader his players could call the “Boss.” The 63-year-old winner of eight majors, including five Open Championships, four of those in Scotland, has never been afraid to speak his mind. Watson will take ownership of his team in a big way.
Watson showed that in no uncertain terms Thursday morning when he was introduced as the captain on NBC’s Today show and when he later took questions during a press conference at the Empire State Building for more than an hour. He said he might look at the process by which players get on the U.S. team, particularly the fact that the captain can make four picks. Watson was clearly not pleased that Hunter Mahan wasn’t on the U.S. team that lost the Ryder Cup in September when the Europeans made a monumental comeback in the last day’s singles matches to win.
Mahan won twice on the PGA Tour this year, and was ninth on the Ryder Cup points list. That put him one spot out of getting an automatic spot. U.S. captain Davis Love III elected not to pick him. Mahan was sorely disappointed, and he was justified in feeling that way.
Meanwhile, Watson said in New York that it was unlikely that he would be a different sort of captain than in 1993, when the U.S. beat Europe at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. That’s the last time the U.S. won the Ryder Cup on foreign soil. Watson was the captain then. Now he’s returned, 21 years later. No U.S. captain has served a second term after a longer absence.
Paul Azinger, the captain in 2008 when the U.S. won in Louisville, played for Watson at The Belfry. He said Watson’s approach was “straightforward.” Luke Donald, a member of four European winning teams, referred to Watson as taking a “no nonsense approach” to golf. Watson referred to himself as the “stage manager” for his team, the person who would “set the table” for his players.
Watson will set the table clearly. He’s opinionated and he isn’t shy about speaking his mind. Watson spoke in February 2010 about Tiger Woods showing his temper on the course — part, it must be said, of how Woods demonstrates his competitiveness and desire, like it or not.
“I feel that he has not carried the same stature that other great players that have come along like Jack [Nicklaus], Arnold [Palmer], Byron Nelson, the Hogans, in the sense that there was language and club throwing on the golf course,” Watson said, adding that he felt Woods “needs to clean up his act and show the respect for the game that other players before him have shown.”
Watson said during his press conference that he and Woods were fine now and that “Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge, no issue.” He referred to Woods “as the best player maybe in the history of the game.”
Woods, for his part, said that Watson “knows what it takes to win, and that’s our ultimate goal.”
Watson is tough-minded, for sure. He understands that golf really is “the game of no excuses,” to appropriate the precise term that Vivien Saunders, a professional golfer from England from 1969 to 2000 before she regained her amateur status, said it was. Saunders’ book The Golfing Mind is in my view one of the best instructional books ever written. It’s straightforward, like Watson.
I once had a demonstration of how much Watson relishes the game, in all its forms and conditions, and how well he accepts whatever it doles out. This was back in late 1980 when Score Magazine, now ScoreGolf, was preparing to publish its inaugural issue. Watson was the top player in the game. I was editing the magazine. We wanted Watson on the cover. I asked him if I could come down to his hometown of Kansas City to interview him. He agreed.
Watson picked me up at the airport. We went to the Kansas City Country Club, his home club. It was freezing. Watson and I chatted in the locker room at length, and, inevitably, we talked about the swing. It didn’t take long before he was hitting balls on the frozen ground. If the weather was miserable, so what? It wasn’t going to improve, and if he were going to talk about the swing, he was going to show me what he meant.
He’ll be showing his players what he means when the 2014 Ryder Cup is held at the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Resort in Perthshire, Scotland. He’ll be himself, and he won’t hold back from doing what he believes is right, and what his experience has taught him is right.
Golf is the game of no excuses, and Watson will be the captain of no excuses.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein