The PGA of America is turning back the clock in hopes of reversing the Americans’ recent Ryder Cup fortunes.
Nineteen years after he last led the team to victory on foreign soil, Tom Watson was officially introduced as the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain Thursday in New York City.
“I was waiting for about 20 years to get the call,” he said. “I loved it the first time. It’s a great honor to be able to do it again.”
Watson, who becomes the Americans’ first repeat captain since Jack Nicklaus in 1987, will be 65 when the matches begin at Gleneagles, making him the oldest captain ever on the U.S. side by eight years. The span between his two stints as captain – 21 years – is also the longest ever. A fixture on the Champions Tour, Watson still makes a few cameos each year alongside today’s players, and in 2009, at age 59, was 8 feet away from capturing the Open Championship at Turnberry.
If nothing else, Watson may help neutralize Europe’s home-course advantage. Having won four of his five Open Championships in Scotland, he is revered in those parts and figures to be an even bigger attraction at Gleneagles than either candidate on the European side, whether it’s 2011 British Open winner Darren Clarke or Paul McGinley.
Asked about what message his appointment might send to his European counterparts, Watson replied, “That we’re going to pull out all the stops to beat you guys. The bottom line is to win. That’s the most important thing. We’re tired of losing.”
Watson was first contacted by the PGA about the 2014 candidacy long before the Americans’ stunning collapse at Medinah. He said Thursday that Bishop initially reached out about 13 months ago. “I’ve been waiting for this call for a long time,” Watson told him.
Bishop was so determined to have Watson return as captain, he produced an 85-page document detailing the reasons why the eight-time major champion should get the gig at Gleneagles.
“The PGA of America has an obligation to pick and find a captain that we feel will put our team in the best position to win,” Bishop said. “I think I speak for a lot of people when I say we’re just really tired of losing the Ryder Cup.”
Watson’s appointment signals a stark departure from the norm for the PGA, which for the past 30 years has used the same criteria to select its Ryder Cup captains: a 40-something former major champion who is still active on the PGA Tour.
David Toms, the 2001 PGA champion, seemed to fit that mold and was the only candidate to formally reach out to the PGA expressing an interest in the opening. Recently, there had been a groundswell of support for three-time major winner Larry Nelson, twice snubbed for the Ryder Cup captaincy in the mid-1990s. Though a longshot to captain the team, he said he received thousands of tweets and messages from fans who hoped the 65-year-old would finally get his chance.
Instead, Bishop said he is “breaking the mold” with the selection process.
That might be a good thing for the U.S. side.
The Americans have lost seven of the past nine Ryder Cups, including a stunning meltdown this past year at Medinah in which they surrendered a 10-6 lead entering the final day.
Said Watson, “It’s my challenge to maybe set the stage with a little extra inspiration along with some Watson luck.”
Tiger Woods, a member of only one winning Ryder Cup team (1999) in seven tries, also applauded the decision, saying in a statement, “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.”
The two Stanford alumni have had a frosty relationship in recent years, stemming from the unraveling of Woods’ personal life in late 2009. A few months later, Watson opined that the 14-time major champion should “show more humility to the game” and “clean up” his on-course language and behavior.
When asked about their relationship now, Watson replied, “My relationship with Tiger is fine. Whatever was said before is water under the bridge. No issues.”
Watson said that he hoped Woods would make the team on points, but added, “If he’s not on the team, you can bet that he’s going to be No. 1 on our pick list.”
The number of captain’s picks Watson will have at his disposal remains to be seen, however. Despite having very competitive matches in the past three Ryder Cups, Watson said he would consider having only two wild-card selections in 2014 after seeing how Hunter Mahan’s late-season swoon cost him a spot on this year’s team.
“I want to have the team be positioned to have the best players on the team to win the matches,” Watson said. “On the other side, I want to have the players who fought all year to qualify all year to have the advantage of being on that team.”
In his first captaincy, in 1993 at The Belfry in England, Watson’s no-nonsense approach as leader helped guide the Americans to a 15-13 victory.
They haven’t won on foreign soil since.
Lanny Wadkins, who played for Watson on that ’93 team, said Wednesday: “He doesn’t go out there to have fun. He goes out there to kick butt and get the job done.”