Saturday 23 September 2017

Watson too remote from his team to match Euro stars

Alasdair Reid

"I have somewhat of an affinity for Scotland," Tom Watson said when he arrived at Gleneagles last week. Maybe he had only somewhat of an affinity with the basic principles of leadership, as Phil Mickelson pointed out with such exquisite malice.

The blame for the United States' defeat cannot be laid entirely at Watson's door, but there is little doubt that he lost the captaincy battle as comprehensively as his players lost their matches.

While the Europeans have won eight of the past 10 events, their captains have emerged as individuals of stature, insight and solid good sense.

The American leaders have mostly been worthy old coves, but their grasp of management techniques has been non-existent.

Paul McGinley was never going to dazzle his players by reeling off his achievements, but he made it his business to cover every base and consider every possibility to allow them to shine on their own account.

The European captain was forensic, clinical, meticulous in his preparations.

Amazingly, Watson had not even attended a Ryder Cup since he led the American team in the 1993 matches at The Belfry. But this week he was taught a lesson in five key areas

1 - PREPARATION

McGinley has been a frequent visitor to Gleneagles since his captaincy was confirmed 19 months ago. He made it his business to check out rooms and facilities as well as ensuring the groundstaff knew how he wanted the course to play. Watson has made only two or three visits in the same period, and his attempt to gather his players there in July was a failure as only a few bothered to turn up. McGinley hosted a number of dinners for those who looked likely to make the team and made it his business to get to know fringe players such as Victor Dubuisson.

2- WILD CARDS

Webb Simpson and Stephen Gallacher made nightmare starts in the Friday fourballs and did not play again until yesterday's singles. Hunter Mahan was the best of the US wild cards, with Westwood the strongest of the European picks, winning both his foursomes matches in the company of Jamie Donaldson. And Ian Poulter definitely did his bit.

Most commentators believe that Watson erred by leaving players like Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel at home.

3- MATCH SELECTIONS

Watson made a bold move when he sent rookies Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth out together on Friday morning and was rewarded when they took a point off Poulter, the European talisman. Amazingly, however, he then stood them down for the afternoon foursomes.

Watson also made an inexplicable decision to stand down Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley on Saturday.

McGinley's main mistake was to pair the nervous Gallacher with the out of form Poulter on that first day. But his masterstrokes were to bring Graeme McDowell together with Dubuisson and to put Henrik Stenson alongside Justin Rose.

4- THE SUNDAY ORDER

Watson clearly liked what he had seen of Spieth and Reed as he sent them out first. However, his tactics further down the field were not so clear, especially his decision to put Mickelson and Bubba Watson at five and six respectively on a day the Americans desperately needed to shift the momentum. The US won just one of the first four matches, and the game was effectively up.

5- BACKROOM TEAMS

Watson failed to acknowledge that his own lack of recent experience might be a weakness by picking vice-captains who were similarly handicapped. For example, the 72-year-old Raymond Floyd was a remote figure to many of the current players.

By contrast, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Jose Maria Olazabal, Des Smyth and Sam Torrance all brought substantial and relevant knowledge to their roles. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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