Watson ready for intense scrutiny at Ryder Cup

By Randall MellSeptember 22, 2014, 1:30 pm

Tom Watson will be scrutinized anew when the final score is posted at Gleneagles in Scotland this week.

He won’t leave the Ryder Cup the same, with his legacy certain to be altered in some way.

That’s how it is now with captains in these pressurized matches. They either become more of what they already were, their greatness swollen with another triumph, or they become something less, their fame nicked or gashed by a grand failure, because that’s what losing a Ryder Cup has become, a failure more epic than losing ever was as a player.

In other words, it’s all become terribly overblown.

A captain passes through scrutiny to the extreme in a Ryder Cup week.

He is a genius. He is an inspiration. He is a winner.

Or he’s a dolt, a disappointment, a loser.

The blame came down so hard on Hal Sutton after the Americans lost at Oakland Hills in ’04, he went into virtual golf exile for four years.

“It drove me right out of the game,” Sutton said.

Nick Faldo was blamed for being too aloof to inspire the Europeans in their loss at Valhalla in ’08.

“It left a scar,” Faldo said of the defeat.

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Tom Kite was criticized for being too soft and ultimately outmaneuvered by Seve Ballesteros in an American loss at Valderrama in ’97.

“You prepare as best you can and hope your guys play well,” Kite said years later. “If they do, you look like a genius, and if they don’t, you look like an idiot.”

The captains live with post-mortem analyses that range from mythic to overblown.

Ballesteros was magnetic and infectious, willing the Europeans to victory with his charismatic presence in ’97 at Valderrama. He seemed omnipresent, zipping between matches in a souped-up golf cart. Faldo was the anti-Seve, too passionless to inspire his team in ’08 at Valhalla.

Ben Crenshaw was a wizard, a prophet predicting something historic was imminent on the eve of the American comeback at the ’99 Ryder Cup. Sutton was blindly autocratic, unable to see what a disaster it would be forcing the pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to open the matches in ’04 at Oakland Hills.

Paul Azinger was a master of the psychology of dynamic relationships, devising a “pod” system that put American players in position to succeed at Valhalla in ‘08. Mark James was the architect of collapse, dooming his team with the risky decision to bench three of his European players until Sunday singles in ’99 at Brookline.

Sam Torrance won the cup in ’02 at The Belfry, frontloading his Sunday singles lineup. Curtis Strange lost it, backloading his lineup there.

Conquering hero or blundering failure? For Ryder Cup captains, it seems as if there is nothing in between anymore.

This is the hornet’s nest Watson is stepping into at Gleneagles this week.

“I’m prepared for that,” Watson said. “I don’t have a problem with it. I have some thick skin.”

Watson said all he can do is try to make the best decisions possible at the time he has to make them.

“If the decisions turn out to be where the players lose rather than win, heck, I’m taking the blame,” he said. “I don’t care. I don’t care at all. I just want the players to win that one extra hole, one more hole than the other team in every match, and make me look good.

“Doesn’t matter if they make me look good. If and when we win the Ryder Cup, I’ll stand aside and give all the credit, all the credit to the players, their caddies, and that’s where the credit is due.”

Even more might be expected of Watson than most captains because his name is so iconic in the game, and because the PGA of America was so bold breaking tradition in bringing him back.

He was the last captain to lead the Americans to victory on foreign soil. Twenty-one years after leading that triumph at The Belfry, Watson was brought aboard to work his magic again, to restore American pride and keep the Euros from winning for the sixth time in seven tries.

He’s going to Scotland to do it, where he is so revered for winning four of his five British Open titles.

Savior and demigod, that’s a full plate of expectations.

“The U.S. is so desperate to win a Ryder Cup, that’s why they gave Watson a shot,” NBC’s Johnny Miller said.

At 65, Watson is old school, a throw-back whose leadership style could not be perceived more differently from the captain he succeeded, the democratic, management-by-committee style of Davis Love III. An eight-time major championship winner, Watson takes a tough-as-nails reputation to Scotland.

“The U.S. under Watson is definitely a win mentality,” Miller said. “Nothing else matters to Tom Watson. He's not going to be holding their hands saying, `It's OK, maybe you'll get ‘em next time.’ It's going to be, `You'd better win the danged thing.’ That’s all there is to it, no complaining, just win, like Al Davis says of the Raiders. I think that's the kind of captain that Watson is.”

Watson understands how the stakes have escalated in the Ryder Cup, but he doesn’t see his role being any different than it was 21 years ago. He isn’t making more of his ability to affect the outcome than is really there.

“From the start, I've said I'm a stage manager,” Watson said. “I set the stage for the players. I tell them where to go. I make the final decisions on who is paired with whom, the order in which they play, and they go out on stage and they perform.”

Ultimately, a captain tries to put players in position to succeed, but the truth is players have more ability to make or break a captain.

“If a man is down and has a curling putt on the 14th hole and misses it, how is it the captain’s fault?” Faldo told the Daily Mail in answer to criticism of his captaincy.

A captain’s IQ soars 50 points when his players have hot putters. His IQ plummets when they don’t.

“I don’t know where a captain has actually made that big a difference, with the exception of putting the right people in the right positions,” Watson said. “Sometimes, that’s just blind luck. Other times, that’s well thought out. It’s a rational decision.”

Watson won’t hole a putt this week, won’t hit a shot out of bounds, but he’ll end up with credit or blame for both.

“I can’t do a darned thing about it once those players are on the golf course,” Watson said. “They are in charge of their own destiny. That is the toughest thing about being a captain. I have no skin in the game.”

A captain can create an atmosphere, set a tone that puts a player more comfortably in position to succeed. Or, for some players, uncomfortably. That’s the thing. There are 12 players, and they’re all different personalities. Some players are better on edge, others aren’t.

“Keeping your players happy may be the most important thing a captain does,” Torrance one said.

Or keeping them dry. Corey Pavin got all kinds of grief at Wales in ’10 when the rain suits his wife helped design leaked so much the Americans had to abandon them in the middle of their matches.

Nobody may have been better at creating atmosphere suited to a player’s strength than Azinger, who grouped players in small pods according to personality types at Valhalla.

Watson sees the appeal in that.

“I’ll be using it in some modified form,” Watson said.

When he led the Americans to victory as captain at The Belfry, Watson created a ruggedly competitive atmosphere. He created controversy there when Torrance – then a player – asked Watson to sign his dinner menu at an official function and Watson refused.

The backstory is that Watson told his players not to sign autographs at the dinner, so as to spare them a long evening when rest was required. He was adhering to his own orders.

Still, his refusal almost mushroomed into an international incident in media accounts. Watson ruffled European sensibilities again before Sunday singles when Torrance complained he couldn’t play because of a toe injury, forcing the Americans to accept a halved singles match, as is Ryder Cup rule. Watson marched into the European team room insisting on seeing Torrance’s ingrown toe-nail.

Bernard Gallacher captained the Europeans that year.

“Tom Watson is a fair man, a nice man, but he’s also a hard man and a competitive man,” Gallacher told the Telegraph this past week.

When it’s all over, we won’t know how the captain’s decisions truly affected the final outcome.

“They could not even have a captain, and it wouldn't matter that much,” Miller said. “I just don't really believe the captain is that big of a deal, personally. You've got these players, 12 really terrific players, and they want to win so badly, and there's no magic formula.”

Magic or not, you can be sure the captain’s winning and losing formulas will be evaluated in the end for assignment of credit and blame.

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Chamblee: Like Tiger in '13, Mickelson should've DQ'd self

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 19, 2018, 2:46 pm

Two days after Brooks Koepka left Long Island with the U.S. Open trophy, the third-round antics of Phil Mickelson are still garnering plenty of discussion.

Mickelson became a lightning rod of opinion after he intentionally hit a moving ball on the 13th green Saturday at Shinnecock Hills, incurring a two-shot penalty but not a disqualification. In the aftermath, he explained that he made a conscious choice to take the penalty to avoid playing back and forth across the crispy putting surface, and he tied for 48th after a final-round 66.

Speaking Tuesday on "Morning Drive," Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee shared his view that Mickelson would have been well-served to disqualify himself ahead of the final round. He also compared it to Tiger Woods' incident at the 2013 Masters, when he took an incorrect drop and, like Mickelson, received a two-shot penalty but not a disqualification.

"I think Tiger, at least it's my opinion that his year would have been less distracting if he had done so," Chamblee said. "And I think the same of Phil Mickelson. If he had withdrawn from the championship and said, 'Look. This is a little sketchy. It didn't play out the way I thought. I've given it some thought and it's in the best interest of the championship that I withdraw.'"

Chamblee added that Mickelson's antics were "really distracting" on a day filled with drama as the USGA lost control of course conditions, noting that Mickelson and playing partner Andrew "Beef" Johnston were the only tee time where both players failed to break 80 despite the difficult conditions.

But having had time to review the situation and having surveyed a number of peers, Chamblee is as convinced as ever that Mickelson made a mistake by showing up for his final-round tee time.

"What Phil did, I haven't run into a single person that hasn't said he deserved to be disqualified," Chamblee said. "Under any interpretation, a serious breach - if gaining an advantage is not a serious breach, I don't know what is. And he clearly said he was gaining an advantage and doing it for strategic reasons."

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Norman to pose in ESPN's 'Body Issue'

By Grill Room TeamJune 19, 2018, 2:05 pm

Professional golfers have, from time to time, appeared in ESPN's "Body Issue," which features athletes strategically posed in the nude. The list includes: Belen Mozo, Carly Booth, Gary Player, Camilo Villegas, Sandra Gal, Christina Kim, Anna Grzebien, Suzann Pettersen and Sadena Parks.

And now, Greg Norman.

Modesty has never been an issue for Norman, who has an affinity for posing without a shirt (and sometimes without pants) on his Instagram account.

He joins a list of athletes, in this year's edition, ranging from professional wrestlers (Charlotte Flair) to Olympians (Adam Rippon) to WNBA stars (Sue Bird). Click here for a full list of the athletes to appear.


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DJ listed as betting favorite for The Open

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 2:00 pm

With the U.S. Open officially in the books, oddsmakers quickly turned their attention to the season's third major.

Minutes after Brooks Koepka holed the winning putt to successfully defend his title at Shinnecock Hills, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published its first set of odds for The Open. Jordan Spieth, who opened at 14/1, will defend his title as the tournament shifts to Carnoustie in Scotland for the first time since 2007, when Padraig Harrington defeated Sergio Garcia in a playoff.

Joining Spieth at 14/1 is 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy, but they're both listed behind world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Johnson, who was a runner-up at the 2011 Open at Royal St. George's and just finished third at the U.S. Open, opened as a 12/1 betting favorite. Koepka, now a two-time major winner, is listed at 20/1 alongside U.S. Open runner-up Tommy Fleetwood.

Here's a look at the first edition of odds, with The Open just five weeks away:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

14/1: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy

16/1: Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas

20/1: Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Phil Mickelson, Branden Grace, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Marc Leishman

50/1: Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Tyrrell Hatton

60/1: Matt Kuchar, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Ian Poulter, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick

80/1: Tony Finau, Zach Johnson, Thomas Pieters, Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele, Bubba Watson, Shane Lowry

100/1: Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker

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Golf Channel, Loch Lomond Partner on Claret Jug Tour Ahead of 147TH Open

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

Award-Winning Independent Scotcb Whisky Sponsoring Tour to Select U.S. Cities; Will Include Special Tastings and Opportunities for Fans to Engage with Golf’s Most Storied Trophy

Golf Channel and Loch Lomond Group are partnering on a promotional tour with the Claret Jug – golf’s most iconic trophy, first awarded in 1873 to the winner of The Open – to select U.S. cities in advance of the 147TH Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Loch Lomond Whisky’s sponsorship of the tour further enhances the brand’s existing five-year partnership with the R&A as the official spirit of The Open, initially announced in February.

“We are proud to partner with Golf Channel to support this tour of golf’s most iconic trophy,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group. “Whisky and golf are two of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, and following the news of our recent partnership with the R&A for The Open, being a part of the Claret Jug tour was a perfect fit for Loch Lomond Group to further showcase our commitment to the game.”

“The Loch Lomond Group could not be a more natural fit to sponsor the Claret Jug tour,” said Tom Knapp, senior vice president of golf sponsorship, NBC Sports Group. “Much like the storied history that accompanies the Claret Jug, Loch Lomond’s Scottish roots trace back centuries ago, and their aspirations to align with golf’s most celebrated traditions will resonate with a broad range of consumers in addition to golf fans and whisky enthusiasts.”

The tour kicks off today in Austin, Texas, and will culminate on Wednesday, July 11 at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe one week prior to The Open. Those wishing to engage with the Claret Jug will have an opportunity at one of several tour stops being staged at Topgolf locations in select cities. The tour will feature a custom, authentic Scottish pub where consumers (of age) can sample Loch Lomond’s portfolio of whiskies in the spirit of golf’s original championship and the Claret Jug. The Claret Jug also will make special pop-up visits to select GolfNow course partners located within some of the designated tour markets.

(All Times Local)

Monday, June 18                    Austin, Texas              (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 19                    Houston                      (Topgolf, 5-8 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 20               Jacksonville, Fla.        (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Monday, June 25                    Orlando, Fla.               (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 4                 Washington D.C.        (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Ashburn, Va.)

Monday, July 9                       Edison, N.J.                (Topgolf, Time TBA)

Wednesday, July 11               Lake Tahoe, Nev.       American Century Championship (On Course)

Fans interacting with the Claret Jug and Loch Lomond during the course of the tour are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag, #ClaretJug on social media, and tag @TheOpen and @LochLomondMalts on Twitter and Instagram.

NBC Sports Group is the exclusive U.S. television home of the 147TH Open from Carnoustie, with nearly 50 live hours of tournament coverage, Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22. The Claret Jug is presented each July to the winner of The Open, with the winner also being given the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” until the following year’s event is staged. The Claret Jug is one of the most storied trophies in all of sports; first presented to the 1873 winner of The Open, Tom Kidd. Each year, the winner’s name is engraved on to the trophy, forever etched into the history of golf’s original championship. It is customary for the Champion Golfer of the Year to drink a favorite alcoholic beverage from the Claret Jug in celebration of the victory.