U.S. got the Ryder Cup captain it hired

By Joe PosnanskiSeptember 29, 2014, 5:15 pm

The problem was they did not really want Tom Watson. Sure, they said they wanted Tom Watson, and then they gave him the job, and then they gave all sorts of lip service to how great it would be to have a hard-nosed legend like Tom Watson captaining the U.S. Ryder Cup team again.

But, in truth, they didn’t want Tom Watson at all. Maybe they wanted the idea of Tom Watson. But they didn’t want the flesh and blood version.

I’ve known Watson for 20 or so years, I’m writing a book about his amazing rivalry and relationship with Jack Nicklaus, and so I know a few things about him. First, he’s a perfectionist. Second, he’s tough as nails. Third, he’s opinionated. And fourth, he’s going to do what he believes is the right thing no matter what anybody else thinks.

This is a man who quit Kansas City Country Club when he felt like the club had blackballed H&R Block founder Henry Bloch because he’s Jewish. People will never know just how hard it was for Watson to do that, just what it cost him within his own family, but he did it because he believed it was right.

Then, this is also man who wrote a letter to Augusta National essentially asking them to ban announcer Gary McCord from the broadcasts because, in Watson’s view, he wasn’t respectful enough (he’d referred to the greens looking “bikini-waxed” for instance). When that became public, Watson looked like a joyless old dinosaur without a sense of humor, but he stuck with it because he believed it was right.

This is a man who charged Gary Player with cheating at a Skins Game. This led to a prolonged feud between the two golfing greats (in his autobiography, Player wrote Watson wasn’t “half a man”), but again, Watson said what he believed, even though he knew it was going to create a lot of tension.

It should be noted that Watson rejoined Kansas City Country Club a while after Bloch was let in, and McCord and Player and Watson have all made amends – McCord and Player have both worked with Watson on charity events in Tom’s Kansas City hometown.

But the point remains: With Tom Watson, you get a deeply principled, overwhelmingly stubborn and entirely certain force of nature. When you ask Watson to captain the Ryder Cup team, like when you hire Bob Knight to coach your basketball team or Buck Showalter to manage your baseball team, you are getting the whole package, the principles, the certainty, the toughness, the quirks. You only hire Watson when you want to blow things up, when you are willing to admit that “We are in trouble here and need someone who will shake up everybody."

That was probably the thought when it was announced Watson was captain. But then the Ryder Cup came around, and it turns out nobody really wanted to be shaken up. By nobody I mean U.S. golfers, particularly Phil Mickelson. Professional golf is the most individual sport in the world – PGA Tour players are their own bosses in a way that no other athlete is. They hire caddies to carry their bags and give them the direction of the wind. They hire coaches who study their swings and make suggestions. They tell equipment companies exactly how to design their clubs, and they tell clothes companies what they want to wear, and they hire agents and public relations people who are charged with making them look as good as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course, but it means that the best PGA Tour players are very rarely told hard truths. They do not play for teams, are never told to sacrifice a runner over or to set a pick for a better shooter or to give up the puck to someone in a better position to score. They are their own universes.

You could see that so clearly in the Ryder Cup scoring this year. In singles, the United States held relatively tough and lost just 6 1/2 to 5 1/2. In the fourball competitions, where all four players play their own balls, the U.S. outscored Europe, 5 to 3. So in the two competitions where the players were playing their own balls – essentially playing the individual golf they are good at – the United States actually outscored Europe, 10 1/2 to 9 1/2.

So what happened? Well, there’s that third competition, the foursomes competition, where players play alternate shot. And that’s a true team competition, one where you are constantly trying to set up your playing partner, where you have to think about his strengths and weakness, and in that Europe annihilated the United States, 7-1. The U.S. was absolutely helpless – none of the six matches they lost outright even made it to the 18th hole. Mickelson, who we will get to in a minute, teamed up with Keegan Bradley in the first day foursomes and they were 3 down to Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson after just five holes.

The reason you hire Watson – the only reason – is if you want him to be blunt with the players, you want him to try and instill some of his competitive fury into them. Watson was 10-4-1 as a Ryder Cup player – he and Jack Nicklaus never lost as a team. You don’t hire Watson to pamper the players or to make them a part of the process or to be warm and fuzzy. If you want that, hire nice guys like Fred Couples or Jay Haas.

I’m saying that without sarcasm – it seems probable to me that American players will only respond to a nice guy captain. That’s fine, but then you don’t hire Watson. He’s not a nice guy, not in that way. And that’s what I mean when I say that they really didn’t want him as captain. Mickelson’s record coming into this the Ryder Cup was 11-17-6. That’s spectacularly bad for a player of Mickelson’s skills. Look at the Ryder Cup records of other players with at least five major championships (winning percentage in parentheses):

• Arnold Palmer: 22-8-3 (71.2%)

• Tom Watson: 10-4-1 (70%)

• Lee Trevino: 17-7-6 (66.6%)

• Jack Nicklaus: 17-8-3 (66.0%)

• Seve Ballesteros: 20-12-5 (60.8%)

• Nick Faldo: 23-19-4 (54.3%)

• Tiger Woods: 13-17-3 (43.9%)

• Phil Mickelson: 13-18-6 (43.2%)

From this, you might determine that Mickelson is the problem and not the solution (ditto for Tiger). You would think the PGA of America brought in Watson to deal with the issues of the recent generation of great American golfers, not cater to their whims. Watson likes Mickelson (or did before the Ryder Cup, don’t know about now) but his job was to try and pull a major upset and win a Ryder Cup in Europe. Mickelson has never been on a team that has done that. The thought had to be that Watson would change things.

But the team wasn’t ready for Watson. They didn’t respond to Watson. They didn’t want a captain like Watson. Mickelson’s passive-aggressive rant after the United States' overwhelming loss about Paul Azinger’s magical pod system was a perfect summary of events. The U.S. just got its butts kicked all over Scotland, and this guy’s talking nonsense about pods.

Look, I don’t think Watson did a very good job as captain. It doesn’t matter – Captain America could not have led this team to victory – but I tend to agree that Watson was inconsistent. His decision to not send out Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed for the foursomes on Friday made little sense. Playing the Mickelson-Bradley team twice on Friday and not at all on Saturday was very strange. I don’t think he connected with the players like he wanted.

But I also think that it was inevitable. There was a generational gap. The players are too young to have seen him play – even Mickelson and Jim Furyk were only 7 when Watson and Nicklaus had their famous Duel in the Sun. The players do not know him from playing the Tour or from seeing him on television. Watson is also not an easy man to know. And the players are used to being empowered.

Mickelson griped how the players weren’t involved in the decisions. Other golfers seemed to agree. And that cuts to do the point. Maybe the only way these guys will perform at the Ryder Cup is if they have a captain who will coddle them and pair them up with their friends and respond to their text messages and include them in all the decisions. That’s fine. But then you don’t hire Tom Watson.

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Z. Johnson looks to end victory drought at Valero

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 10:45 pm

Nearly three years after his most recent victory, Zach Johnson has a chance to get back into the winner's circle at the Valero Texas Open.

Johnson started the third round at TPC San Antonio with a share of the lead, and he maintained that position after closing out a 4-under 68 with a birdie on the final hole. At 13 under, he is tied for the lead with Andrew Landry and one shot clear of Trey Mullinax as he looks to win for the first time since The Open in 2015.

"Different wind today. Misjudged some numbers, misjudged some wind, made some bad swings, all of the above," Johnson told reporters. "But truthfully, I mean my short game was actually pretty good, my putting was great. I missed some putts but I hit some really good ones, hit some lines and I gave myself opportunities, especially on the back side."

Johnson started slowly, making the turn in even-par 36, before carding four birdies on the inward half. It was a microcosm of his week at TPC San Antonio, where Johnson is even through three trips across the front nine but has played the back nine in 13 under while picking up more than six strokes on the field in strokes gained: putting.

Johnson won this event in both 2008 and 2009 when it was held at nearby La Cantera, but he has only cracked the top 10 once since it shifted venues in 2010. But facing off in the final group against two players who have yet to win on the PGA Tour, the veteran hopes to capitalize on his back-nine prowess this week in order to deliver career win No. 13.

"I've got to do exactly what I did on the back side, and that was give myself opportunities on every hole," Johnson said. "I'm putting great, I'm seeing the lines well, my caddie's reading the greens well. So it's just a matter of committing and executing down the stretch."

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Mullinax fires course-record 62 at Valero

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 9:01 pm

Trey Mullinax surged into contention during the third round of the Valero Texas Open, shooting a 10-under 62 that set a new course record on the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.

Mullinax started the day seven shots off the pace, but his sizzling round left him alone in third place through 54 holes, one shot off the lead. The former Alabama standout caught fire on the back nine, shooting a 7-under 29 despite a bogey after chip-ins for eagle on No. 14 and birdie on No. 16 to go along with an eagle on the home hole.

"It's probably one of the best rounds I've ever had," Mullinax told reporters. "To go out there and shoot 62 on a hard golf course is really good."

Mullinax appeared headed for a missed cut after a 74 in the opening round, but he bounced back with a second-round 68 to earn a weekend tee time and his third-round score broke the previous course record of 63 held by multiple players.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

The 25-year-old finished 137th in FedExCup points last season, leaving him with only conditional status this season. His lone top-10 finish of the year came at the Valspar Championship, where he survived a Monday qualifier and went on to tie for eighth, and this marks only his third start since the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.

"Obviously I would like to play a little more, but the tournaments I get in, I'm really excited about playing golf," Mullinax said. "I've loved every start I've gotten, and I'm very thankful to be in the position I'm in."

Mullinax holed a putt to clinch a national title for the Crimson Tide in 2014, and he finished T-9 at last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills. But success has been fleeting among the professional ranks, meaning Sunday's opportunity to notch a career-best finish or breakthrough victory is nothing short of enticing.

"I'm sure you'll be nervous," Mullinax said. "To have a chance to win or just go play good golf is what I came here for, so that's what I'm going to do."

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Quiros maintains one-shot lead through 54 in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 7:46 pm

RABAT, Morocco - A birdie on the last hole gave Alvaro Quiros a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Trophee Hassan II.

Quiros' birdie on No. 18 allowed the Spanish golfer to sign for an even-par 72 on Saturday to stay at 7-under par overall and clear of four players in second place.

South African pair Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, France's Alexander Levy, and Finland's Mikko Ilonen were just a shot behind at 6 under heading into the final day at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat.

Quiros is a seven-time winner on the European Tour, but went six years without a victory until last year with his triumph at the Rocco Forte Open in Italy.

Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II

He's seeking a wire-to-wire victory in Morocco after sharing the first-round lead with Bradley Dredge before taking it outright on Day 2.

Quiros had an on-off day in the third round - he said it was ''suddenly great shot, suddenly not so good'' - and carded four birdies and four bogeys to come out even and still hold on to his lead.

Van Rooyen shot 71, Bezuidenhout 68, Levy a 69, and Ilonen the best round of the week so far with his 6-under 66.

Ilonen had seven birdies and just a single bogey - on his first hole - to leap 23 places up the leaderboard and into contention for a first tour title since 2014 when he won the World Match Play Championship.

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.