McCabe: With Watson, PGA takes a gamble
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Video: Miceli breaks down the choice of Tom Watson
- Yes, he is the perfect choice. 56%
- No, there were other, better options. 16%
- Doesn't matter, it all comes down to the players anyways. 27%
164 total votes.
As Robin said to Batman, “Holy hole in the doughnut.”
That legendary utterance was in reaction to some sort of fiendish happening in Gotham City. (I think Aunt Harriet was kidnapped.) But it also will serve the purpose for what is expected to be announced in that same city Thursday morning.
Tom Watson as your 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
If it’s true, then “Holy hole in the doughnut, indeed.”
It is such stunning stuff that reactions rolled fast and furiously. But here are the initial ones:
First, good for PGA of America president Ted Bishop, who clearly saw that the same old blueprint for naming the next captain – you know, a 45-to-48-year-old former major champion who still plays consistently on Tour – had to be changed up, that it wasn’t working. Americans, after all, have lost seven of the past nine Ryder Cups employing that philosophy, and this notion that guys in their 60s are out of touch with today’s players is utter nonsense.
Or, to quote a former captain, “It’s hogwash.”
But on further review, boo for Bishop & Co. for setting out in the right direction, then dropping the ball. With Watson, they are going for the big splash, for the 164-point headlines, for the shock value, for the keep-the-spotlight-on-us-for-a-longer-shelf-life-approach instead of the proper and honorable choice. Watson is a Hall of Famer, an icon, and a sure-fire newsmaker, a guy who “moves the needle,” as they say. (Heck, ask Scots to name their favorite golfer and they’d vote for Watson, well ahead of Colin Montgomerie – and the 2014 Ryder Cup is in Scotland, don’t forget.) The only thing is, at some point you have to stop being about showcasing the event and propping it up for all to see; it should be about doing the right thing.
In recent weeks, former U.S. Ryder Cup captains had put in calls to Bishop to voice their opinions about the direction in which the man might go with his choice of captain. They were encouraged to hear that Bishop was considering “going older,” as one ex-captain said on Wednesday. But when one captain told another captain that “older” seemed to mean Watson, 63, the calls to Bishop took on a different tone.
“If you put every living Ryder Cup captain in a room (and for the record, there are 18 of them; nice symmetry, eh?) and had them vote for the next captain, they would unanimously vote for Larry Nelson. Unanimously!” said one former captain. “And how would Ted Bishop go against that?”
Probably in a way similar to how the PGA of America inexplicably shunned Nelson, which remains one of the biggest injustices in the game.
What about being a Vietnam War hero, a late-bloomer to the game of golf who then went on to win three major championships, including not one but two PGA Championships never appealed to PGA of America officials is beyond any reasonable mind. That is why the quiet, dignified Nelson had so many colleagues watching his back.
Because he’s a peer?
“No, not because he’s a senior, or an old friend, but because it would be the right thing,” said a former captain. “And because inside a locker room, he’d have the young players’ respect.”
For some reason, the PGA of America have never done the prudent thing, which would be to form a committee of past captains and Ryder Cup players just to keep definitive lines of communication open with the PGA Tour players. (Memo to President Bishop: Europe does this, and it seems to have worked well.) Now 65, Nelson never was picked to be a Ryder Cup captain. He was close in 1995, but stepped aside to make room for Lanny Wadkins at Oak Hill. OK, fine; made sense. He thought he’d get the job in 1997, but no. It went to Tom Kite. By then, Nelson was 50 and “too old” and “too out of touch” with PGA Tour players, at least going with the thinking of PGA of America brass.
That the process has changed is cause to celebrate, and for a handful of reasons “going older” is a brilliant move. (Didn’t Jack Nicklaus do OK as Presidents Cup captain in 2005 and ’07? What, at age 50 and above, does one suddenly lose his feel and knowledge of the game?)
Watson was at the helm in 1993, the last time the Americans won on foreign soil (a 15-13 triumph at The Belfry in England), and he compiled a 10-4-1 record in his four Ryder Cup appearances as a player (team wins in 1977, ‘81, ‘83, and a tie in ‘89). His eight major championships would seem to be fuel for euphoria, and the fact that four of his five Claret Jugs were won on Scottish sod makes for even more glee. No-brainer, right?
Maybe yes, but something tells me there is something else at work here. Call it the “wow” factor. Sorry, but it rubs me the wrong way to have the 2014 Ryder Cup captain named on the “Today” show. It rubbed a former U.S. Ryder Cup captain the wrong way, too.
“Gosh, they think it’s a big deal, but it ain’t a big deal,” he said. “If I could just tell Ted Bishop, this shouldn’t be taken as a personal mission to win back the Ryder Cup. Calm down. Relax. The captain doesn’t win or lose the Ryder Cup.”
Yet you can’t get on “Today” if you name Nelson captain, or Paul Azinger or David Toms or Steve Stricker. But Watson? Ah, there’s the trick. Lights, cameras, action.
Good gracious. It’s all a bit sad.
But come 2014, the challenge will be to lead players half his age into most likely a cold and wet visiting arena and do what an American team hasn’t done in two decades: win the Ryder Cup on the road. Watson never has been accused of being shy or lacking an opinion, and very likely, he isn’t doing this to make friends. Perhaps such a personality will serve Watson well at Gleneagles. Then again, it could be his undoing.
Which is why you can chalk this one up to being the ultimate roll of the dice.
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