independent

Friday 18 April 2014

‘Boy, I’ve been waiting on this for a long time,’ says US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson

Tom Watson

WEARING a smart jacket and tie, his hair neatly coiffed and with countless laughter lines creasing his face, Tom Watson exuded the casual authority one expects of the chairman or chief executive of a major corporation.

After being unveiled as the oldest Ryder Cup captain in history live on NBC's ' Today Show', Watson (63) was whisked to New York's Empire State Building to meet the media.

The venue spoke chapters for sky-high American hopes that this fearless, peerless and principled eight-times Major winner will spark a change in their Ryder Cup fortunes at Gleneagles in 2014.

Watson's appointment had been elementary. PGA of America president Ted Bishop said: "Much of the decision to name this gentleman as our next captain was about our weariness of what's happened in the past few Ryder Cups. We feel he's the perfect person to change that trend."

Captain of the last US team to win on European soil at the Belfry in 1993, Watson joked: "When they first started this process over a year ago, I said: 'Boy, I've been waiting for this call for a long time'."

So, what will the great man's appointment bring to the table?

1 Age and experience are powerful assets for Watson

WATSON will be 65 when the Ryder Cup is played at Gleneagles, but his legendary status and astonishing constitution will help ensure his age is not a negative factor in the US team room in 2014. The man principally responsible for appointing Watson, Bishop, expects his man's vast life and playing experience to work to his advantage.

In recent years, the US has appointed captains of between 40 and 50 years of age. Invariably Major champions, they've all been active on the PGA Tour and enjoyed close working relationships with the men they led.

This inevitably led to a 'captaincy by consensus'. For example, Davis Love III, an exemplary skipper in Chicago, revealed of his singles order for Sunday at Medinah: "I let them (the players) basically pick it."

Interestingly, Paul Azinger, the highly innovative winning skipper at Valhalla in 2008, certainly took command on that occasion, and Watson's bearing will give him an aura of authority at Gleneagles.

2 New US skipper 'prepares stage for the stars'

WATSON compares his job at Gleneagles to that of a stage manager in the theatre, with the players very much the key performers at the Ryder Cup.

"Here we are in this iconic New York building, not too far from Broadway," he explained. "The theatre we went to last night, there's always a stage manager. That person prepares the stage for the actors, and that's what I do as captain.

"I prepare the stage for the players. It's a challenge, but I've been there before," added Watson.

"Some will ask: 'Why is Watson, an old guy, being the captain?' I deflect that simply by saying: 'I play against these kids at the Masters, the Open championship, the Greenbrier Classic. We play the same game.'

"They understand that. I understand that. It's my responsibility maybe to set the stage with a little extra inspiration. For them to go out with some of the Watson luck, I think propelled us to victory in 1993."

3 Tiger row is 'water under the bridge'

TIGER WOODS and Watson yesterday banished any suggestion of bitterness between them.

Watson tore strips off Tiger during a TV interview early in 2010 for on-course behaviour which fell below that expected of golf's foremost players.

Yet he insisted: "My relationship with Tiger is fine. Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge. There are no issues."

Woods welcomed Watson's appointment, adding: "Tom really knows what it takes to win and that's our ultimate goal. I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the 2014 US team."

He needn't worry. "Tiger's maybe the best player in history," said Watson. "He brings stature to the team unlike any other player. If he's not on the team for any unforeseen reason, you can bet he's going to be No 1 on my pick list.

"Nobody else in the golf world wants to win more than Tiger. He's dominated the sport unlike anybody in history, so I want him on my team."

4 Appointment a blow to McGinley

WATSON'S appointment almost certainly will give Europe pause for thought next month when choosing their skipper for 2014.

The importance of having a strong figurehead to rally support at home matches cannot be overstated.

Seve Ballesteros dominated Tom Kite like a latter-day General Patton at Valderrama; wise-cracking Sam Torrance danced merry rings around Curtis Strange at the Belfry; and Colin Montgomerie eclipsed Corey Pavin at Celtic Manor in 2010.

Watson is immensely popular in Scotland. He won four of his five British Open titles there and went within one missed putt of the most astonishing Major victory of all time at Turnberry in 2009.

Montgomerie said he'd no desire to captain the home team at Gleneagles, while Jose Maria Olazabal drew a very solid line under Medinah, leaving Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley in the frame.

Watson's appointment tips the scales against McGinley, despite his proven qualities as an outstanding team captain. The Tour is more likely now to opt for Clarke, because of his higher public profile and status as a Major champion.

5 Seve inspired the miracle at Medinah

WATSON believes the spirit of Seve Ballesteros helped Europe perform miracles at Medinah.

"Without question, it was one of the greatest Ryder Cup matches in history," said Watson. "When Ian Poulter made those five birdies in a row on Saturday, he gave them a little breath of hope.

"It was like a cloud just appeared on the horizon, that was the harbinger for the next day," he went on. "And when the next day came, that cloud grew into a storm and, as the scoreboard went blue midway through those first five matches, that storm was howling.

"The momentum had changed and I give a great deal of credit to that guy right there," added Watson, pointing to a nearby picture of Seve Ballesteros.

"Jose Maria Olazabal was a great friend of Seve, whom I think had a great deal to do with their comeback and their victory on Sunday. It's not a question in any mind that this was one of the major reasons they won."

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