Five reactions to Watson as Ryder Cup captain

By Jason SobelDecember 13, 2012, 4:34 pm

You know, it’s funny: When it comes to debate and conjecture about Ryder Cup captains, half the people spend way too much time discussing and dissecting the markings of a good one, while half the people constantly contend that the role is overstated and overrated in the first place. So what’s the funny part? They’re often the same people.

It’s no secret that there’s only so much a captain can do. There are pretty much just two hard and fast rules: 1. Don’t pair guys who shouldn’t play together (ahem, Hal Sutton); and 2. Don’t outfit the mighty red, white and blue in lilac and periwinkle (looking at you, Corey Pavin). Maybe it’s oversimplification to contend that everything else is decided by the dozen players on the team, but there’s no defense against the argument which reminds us that captains don’t hit any tee shots and don’t stroke any putts.

And yet, here we are. More than 21 months before the next edition of the biennial competition, we’re batting around the idea of whether Tom Watson is the right man for the job. We’re going to learn much more about the ramifications of this decision in due time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some immediate reactions. Here are five of ‘em:

1. There is no ideal age for a Ryder Cup captain.

It was somewhere around the third chorus of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” during the 12/12/12 concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy that it dawned on me. If Mick Jagger can pout and strut and sing his lungs out on stage every night at age 69, then Watson shouldn’t have too much of an issue pairing up a few professional golfers when he’s 65.

In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s announcement, PGA president Ted Bishop promised that he would go “outside the box” with his selection. Well, this is more like he stepped on the box and crushed it. There has been a specific set of prerequisites for captains in recent years – each of the last five was between 46 and 50 years old and had played in at least eight PGA Tour events during the year of his captaincy – but Watson doesn’t fit any of 'em.

What this means is that no longer can veteran U.S. golfers wait their turn to pass through the turnstile. David Toms has already felt the effect of this decision, figuring to be the lone man who met those prerequisites this time around. If I’m a guy like Jim Furyk or Justin Leonard, right now I’m very nervous that my assumed place in the schedule has been usurped by the call to go in another direction.

Up until this week, you could have scheduled captains for the next dozen years. Toms. Leonard. Furyk. Steve Stricker. Phil Mickelson. Tiger Woods. Maybe not all of them, maybe not in that exact order, but based on what we knew about credentials, that list would be pretty close.

And there’s one man to credit – or blame, as the case may be. As someone close with Toms told me this week, if Justin Rose doesn’t make those two long putts on the last two holes at Medinah on Sunday, the U.S. wins and the PGA of America retains the status quo going forward. Those two putts changed the course of the captaincy.

2. Watson may steal some support.

I’ll be the first to admit when I lose an argument, and I went down in a first-round TKO in the Golf Channel office Wednesday morning. While discussing Watson’s impending captaincy with a producer, I made the flippant comment that I didn’t believe his presence would negate any sort of home-field advantage for the Europeans in Scotland. I said it without thinking of the consequences, without putting myself on the Gleneagles course two years from now.

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The producer countered with the notion that having Watson in charge would keep the raucous crowd reaction to a minimum. Think about it, he told me: If Watson – a man revered in that country, a man who won four of his five Open Championship titles there – sits down in the interview room on Thursday and explains that what he loves about Scottish golf fans is that they cheer great golf and aren’t too partisan toward their side, the folks behind the ropes won’t want to disappoint him. If Watson is standing next to the green and an American player misses a crucial putt, it will take just one cursory glance toward the spectators to curb their enthusiasm.

That’s not to suggest that European fans won’t cheer for their side, because they will. But if it’s even 5 percent less boisterous on the course, that’s a built-in advantage for the American side – or at least less of a disadvantage.

3. There should be an interview process.

It’s pretty apparent that at some point following this year’s loss – whether it was a month later or a week or a day or even seconds after Martin Kaymer holed the clinching putt – PGA of America officials had decided that Watson would be the man to lead the team on foreign soil in two years.

Other candidates, though, should have been afforded the opportunity to at least make an impression.

When the Indianapolis Colts held the No. 1 overall draft pick this year, they were sold on Andrew Luck, but that didn’t prevent the team from also working out Robert Griffin III and other possible choices. Even if the PGA folks knew whom their selection would be, meetings with other candidates could have prevented some needless hang-wringing in recent days.

How? Well, there was the whole he said-he said as to whether Bishop had gone to the courtesy of contacting the likes of Toms and Larry Nelson, each of whom figured to be amongst the mix. As it turns out, Bishop finally spoke with Toms on Tuesday morning – after the Thursday announcement was already scheduled – and reached Nelson on Wednesday afternoon.

All of this could have been avoided if these men had been brought in for an interview process – either formal or informal – prior to this week. At the very least, it’s a common courtesy to a few PGA Championship winners who deserve it; at best, officials become smitten with one of these candidates, maybe even tabbing him for the job two years down the road.

4. It’s not all about Tiger.

When Steve Stricker was struggling mightily at Medinah, some critics were quick to pick on Davis Love III for naming a captain’s pick simply because Woods wanted his buddy and regular partner on the team. Forget the fact that Stricker was ranked 10th in the world at the time of the selection and is one of the game’s best putters. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

It’s been a familiar refrain for the past decade and a half: Whatever Tiger wants, Tiger gets. In some respects, that’s been true, but not this time. Despite being a fellow T-Dub who attended Stanford University, Woods and Watson haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, with the latter often offering some vocal critical analysis about the former's on- and off-course behavior in recent years.

Heck, if Woods could have his way, a buddy like Mark O’Meara would be serving his fourth term as captain. If he’s received any preferential treatment from other skippers – and there’s no evidence that he has – Tiger certainly won’t get any from Watson, though we should expect their frosty relationship to warm up in the next two years.

In fact, it already has. Woods reacted to the announcement by saying, “I think he's a really good choice. Tom knows what it takes to win, and that's our ultimate goal. I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the 2014 United States team.” That may reek of prepared statement, but it also diffuses any lingering contempt. Don’t be surprised when Watson similarly offers an olive branch throughout his tenure.

5. Maybe it’s time for a long-term captain.

When he introduced Watson at Thursday’s news conference, Bishop didn’t mince words. He said the decision was made because he wants the U.S. to win again.

No problem with that. Makes sense. But it also calls into question the current process of having each captain serve a two-year term before packing up his belongings and heading off into the sunset. Now, if the PGA had deemed the Ryder Cup just an exhibition and wanted to give every great player a chance to lead, then it’s difficult to criticize this process. By naming Watson to a second term, though, officials have admitted that this is more travel ball than Little League; in other words, they only want the best of the best as opposed to letting everyone take a turn at bat.

Since that’s the case, why not appoint a man to the position and let him remain in that capacity until one or both parties decide to end that relationship? If that sounds like an unconventional idea, then clearly other national teams are unconventional, because this is the exact model for the country’s squads in basketball, soccer and other sports.

It’s an intriguing idea for the Ryder Cup. It would give the captain an ability to forge relationships for more than 21 months, to get a feel for which players mesh well with others and the experience of what it takes to win – or avoid losing, which is just as important – rather than always attempting it for the first time.

Hey, it could happen. If Watson leads his team to victory in Scotland at the age of 65, there’s no reason he couldn’t also do that at 67 and 69 and 71. The PGA of America could do a lot worse than keeping him in a long-term role. Maybe it’ll be like those old playground basketball games: Win and stay on.

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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner

On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray

On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard

On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”