Just like 1993, Watson will lead '14 squad to victory

By John FeinsteinDecember 14, 2012, 5:15 pm

When Tom Watson said Thursday he had been waiting 20 years to get the call asking him to captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team for a second time, he wasn’t exaggerating. The argument can be made that no one ever loved being a captain more than Watson or worked harder at the job.

Or did it better.

Watson won eight major titles, but he has often talked about his team’s 15-13 victory at The Belfry in 1993 as the most satisfying moment of his career.

“Not my greatest,” he said. “I didn’t do the playing, the team did. But the work that went into it, seeing the looks on their faces when we won that Sunday was something I’ll never forget.”

It is a feeling he fully expects to have again.

Watson, it should be remembered, was named the American captain shortly after the infamous “War by the Shore” in 1991. Although that Ryder Cup has since been glorified as a signature moment in golf history, it wasn’t looked upon that way in the immediate aftermath. The notion of American players showing up in fatigues to signal they were going to war was considered over the top by the Europeans. And the behavior of the American fans was also an issue.

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Watson had two goals when he became captain: to win the Cup in Europe – he specifically asked to captain the team overseas – and to bring civility back to the Ryder Cup. That’s why he didn’t just meet with potential American team members, he also talked to several key people from Europe: captain Bernard Gallacher, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros among them.

He also let potential team members know that he expected them to begin preparing for the matches long before they left for The Belfry. He wanted them to play money matches every Tuesday at Tour stops – not for yucks, but for real. No gimme putts from 5 feet. Don’t just play with your buddies, play with guys who might be your teammates.

Watson had only two captain’s picks and he made it clear he wouldn’t fool around with them. Some people were suggesting that John Daly should be on the team to intimidate the Europeans with his length. No, Watson said firmly, he didn’t want anyone on his team capable of quitting. Curtis Strange got semi-hot that summer – maybe he should be chosen. No, Watson said, he wanted consistency, not someone who had played well for a few weeks.

Strange was in an airport when he got a message to call Watson the night before the captain’s picks were named. “He just said, ‘You’re out, I went with two other guys’,” Strange remembered later. “I liked that. It told me he knew exactly who he wanted.”

There were no apologies, no ‘it could have been you’ speeches. Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins – a past captain and a future captain, both tough guys like Watson, were named.

If there was any doubt about who was in charge of that team it dissolved after several players objected to going to the White House to meet with President Bill Clinton before getting on the Concorde. Watson, every inch the Republican that the other members of the team were, told his players to shut up and show up.

“We’re representing the United States and he’s the president,” he said. “We go and we show him the respect he deserves. Period.”

Before he assembled his team, Watson went to see Roy Williams, then the basketball coach at the University of Kansas. Watson had never been a coach before and he wanted some advice from someone who had been a successful coach.

“Tell your guys that there’s nothing better when you’re playing on the road to hear the sounds of silence,” Williams counseled – a lesson he had learned from his coaching mentor, Dean Smith. “Tell them to listen for the silence.”

Watson did just that. He also put a ‘thought for the day’ at the top of the schedule each player received every morning. On Friday, the first day of the matches, his thought was direct: “Remember,” it said, “Everything THEY invented, WE perfected.”

His players loved that. On Sunday afternoon, Watson was standing in the 18th fairway watching Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo finish the final singles match. After trailing 7 1/2 to 4 1/2 on Saturday morning, the U.S. had roared back and the cup had already been clinched as Watson watched Azinger and Faldo line up their meaningless putts.

Davis Love III, a Ryder Cup rookie that year who had made the putt that had clinched the U.S. at least retaining the cup, sidled up to Watson.

“Do you hear it, Tom?” he asked.

“What?” Watson asked.

“The silence,” Love said, grinning. “Listen to all the silence.”

Watson has never made any secret of his desire to be the captain again. As far back as 2004 he talked about how frustrating it was to watch the Europeans play with so much confidence and bravado while the Americans played – in his opinion – not to lose. After the embarrassing loss at the K Club in 2006 he talked about the need to change the culture of the American team.

“We haven’t been a team recently,” he said not long after that defeat. “We’ve been 12 guys in a room. Nothing more.”

I asked him then if he would be willing to captain the team again.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’d love to do it.”

It was clear even then that he had very definite ideas about what he would do if he ever got the chance to captain again. You can bet those ideas are already being put into motion right now.

Watson’s challenge at Gleneagles will be entirely different than it was at The Belfry. In 1993, he played regularly with potential team members because he was still on Tour. Many of the players who will be on this team have never played with him. He will also have to deal with the care and feeding of Tiger Woods – a challenge for every U.S. captain (except Paul Azinger in 2008) since 1997. And he will be facing a European team that believes it is always destined to find a way to win – having done so in seven of the nine Ryder Cups since Watson was captain.

Chances are Watson already knows how he will handle those issues. Woods said all the right things publicly about Watson on Thursday, but knowing his history of holding a grudge, there’s no doubt he and Watson will sit down and talk. Watson won’t coddle him or ask him to forgive him for being critical in the past. He will say something like this: 'Tiger I need you to play well for us to win. And YOU need to play well too in order to put your Ryder Cup past behind you. You don’t have to like me to do that, you just have to walk into the room with the approach that nothing has ever mattered more in your life than playing three good days of golf over there.'

On Thursday, after he was formally named captain, I sent Watson an email congratulating him. His response was simple and direct: “The journey begins!”

There is no doubt it will end on Sept. 28, 2014, as dusk approaches in Scotland with Watson holding the Ryder Cup in his hands one more time.

Note: John Feinstein is author of 'Caddy For Life – The Bruce Edwards Story,' which chronicled the life of Tom Watson's longtime caddie Bruce Edwards, who died of ALS in 2004. He and Watson co-founded the Bruce Edwards Foundation, which raises money to support research efforts to find a cure for ALS.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.