Dec
11
2012
And the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain is reportedly…Tom Watson
By Stephanie Wei under Ryder Cup

Ed. note: I started writing this post before Rosaforte’s article with the breaking news was published.

Watson saluting the fans at St. Andrews at The Open in '10 (it was quite poignant)

If you woke up this morning and thought David Toms or Larry Nelson or anyone else not named Tom Watson were the favorites to be tapped as the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, you may have changed your mind by now.

While the PGA of America won’t make an official announcement until Thursday at 8:30am EST on The Today Show (under the radar, per usual), industry insiders are putting their money on five-time Open Champ Tom Watson, who captained the last American team to win on foreign soil in ’93. Phrases like the PGA is “thinking outside the box” or “shaking it up” have been tossed around by respected journalists.

At a luncheon in New York on Tuesday, new PGA of America president Ted Bishop teased the formal announcement and said, “We’ve done something a little bit different this year.”

Ah, the future sounds promising! — I like this guy already. But seriously, it’s about time the suits in Palm Beach Gardens threw a curve ball and ruffled some feathers (over something besides transportation issues and logistical nightmares). The shocking loss at Medinah in October might have been the wake-up call, not to mention the U.S. has lost 7 of the last 9 Ryder Cups to Europe.

Change!

Until today I wasn’t sure if the PGA had it in them. Even when I read that Watson said he’d like to captain another Ryder Cup team last week at the Australian Open — “It would be a great honor if I got tapped on the shoulder. ’93 was the last time I’ve been to a Ryder Cup. I’d like to go back as captain. That would be cool.” — I didn’t think much of it.

After all, it seemed like a lock that David Toms, the likeable, politically correct player in his mid-40s with a PGA Championship title, would be Davis Love III’s successor. I mean, Love hypothetically referred to Toms as the next captain during a press conference at the McGladrey Classic. My ears certainly perked up at the time, but when Love was pressed by a reporter, Love said his “bet” was on Toms.

Earlier today, GolfChannel.com’s Jason Sobel reported that neither David Toms or Larry Nelson had spoken to the PGA about the job, which was rather telling considering the announcement is in less than two days.

Then Tim Rosaforte tweeted: “My reporting has Tom Watson as next Ryder Cup captain. PGA wants to shake it up. TW captained winning team in ’93. Won’t lead by committee.”

Oh, what’s this? *Breaking news* midway through post…

Rosaforte followed up his tweet and penned a GolfDigest.com report, saying his sources tell him the plan is to pick Watson.

It makes perfect sense. The 2014 Ryder Cup will be held at Gleneagles in Scotland, a country where Watson has had great success. It’s not the easiest to earn golfing respect from those across the pond — unless you’ve won five Open Championship titles. He’s a demigod and worshiped by fans in the UK (which will create an intriguing atmosphere at the matches and Watson’s stature can only help the U.S.).

It’s hard to explain the reverence he receives ever year at the Open Championship from the crowd. I remember hearing a commotion in 2010 at St. Andrews and I ran outside the media tent to the 18th hole just in time to see the fans paying tribute to Watson as he played the final hole.

The cheers and support were unlike anything I’d ever seen — it wasn’t like the crazy roars that Tiger Woods gets in the U.S. or anyone else. I still recall the magical feeling that encompassed the crowd, while Watson putted out on the 18th. I’m getting the same goosebumps and chills I felt that afternoon just thinking (and writing) about it. In the following two Opens I covered at RSG and Royal Lytham, it’s been the same type of deal (but a little less intense since the second round in ’10 might have been Watson’s last Open Champ round at St. Andrews).

Watson even seems “different” when he’s in the U.K. Partly, I think because of his fondness and good memories and also because he knows he can still be competitive on links-style courses, whereas it’s much more difficult for him to keep up with the young guns at, say, the Masters.

Who better to inspire confidence in the U.S. team in Scotland than Watson? Exactly. Plus, he’d never allow for rain gear malfunctions.

Watson also isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and as I mentioned, he captained the last American team to win on foreign ground at the ’93 matches at Belfry. (I recently re-read John Feinstein’s book, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” which recounts the incredible matches that year. I was going to type some of it out, but it’s getting late, so I’ll save that for later.

The only “issue” Watson might encounter is his history with Tiger Woods. After Tiger’s sex scandal, Watson criticized Woods for his behavior on and off the golf course. Since then he hasn’t minced words when asked for his opinions on the 14-time major champ.

But I think Watson and Woods can and will put aside their personal difference and behave like adults for a week. Just because they don’t necessarily agree with on moral fronts, it doesn’t mean they don’t respect each others’ accomplishments and abilities on the golf course.

The Europeans certainly have shown that it’s possible to come together as a team despite their past history. Ian Poulter and Colin Montgomery aren’t exactly fond of each other, but they didn’t let it become a problem or distraction at the 2010 Ryder Cup. (I’m pretty sure Poulter wasn’t the only one who has history with Monty.)

Just a few months ago, the soft-spoken Peter Hanson voiced his disdain when European captain Jose Maria Olazabal benched him for both of Saturday’s matches. Hanson and Olazabal exchanged some heated words that evening. Martin Kaymer, who made the winning putt to clinch the miraculous comeback, was also upset he didn’t play either of the matches the previous day. But things turned out just alright, didn’t they? At the end of the day, these guys were able to suck it up and respect their captain even if they disagreed with him.

Not everyone on every team is best friends, but in recent years they (usually) manage to come together and get along for a week. It’s what grown-ups do and it’s really not that much to ask.

[*Recommended reading: The SI Golf Group convened on Tuesday afternoon for an "emergency" PGA Tour Confidential roundtable to discuss the pending announcement. Check it out.]

(Photo via NY Daily News)