Watson's peers expect an all-business Ryder Cup

Tom Watson, an eight-time major winner, is expected to be named as the leader of the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team.

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Was Tom Watson the right choice?

  • 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.

ORLANDO, Fla. – When news of the report that Tom Watson will be the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain filtered through the PNC Father-Son Challenge on Wednesday, reaction among several big-name players touched on two main points:

1.) Watson figures to be a good, intense captain in his beloved Scotland and will be focused on winning – something the American side has done only twice in the past nine Ryder Cups.

2.) Why is the PGA of America passing over three-time major champion Larry Nelson again?

Those sentiments were expressed by Nelson himself upon learning Watson, an eight-time major winner, is expected to be named as the leader of the 2014 team at a Thursday morning news conference in New York.

“I’m disappointed,” Nelson, a Vietnam War veteran who has a 9-3-1 Ryder record, said at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. “They haven’t named him yet, but to me personally, to give it to someone twice (is curious) when there are a lot of players who deserve it and haven’t done it. It’s just not me. There are a lot of people, like Hale Irwin and Mark O’Meara.”

Hall of Famer Nelson, 65, said he “figured it out” on his own that Watson would be captain and not himself. “I was hoping but not expecting it,” the two-time PGA champion said.

Still, Nelson said he expects Watson will “do well” at Gleneagles, in a country where Watson won four of his five British Open titles. Nelson, too, is mindful Watson is the last person to captain a victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team overseas – in 1993 at the Belfry in England.

“The fact he’s been there before is important,” said Nelson, passed over as a captain in the 1990s when many thought he’d make an ideal choice. “He’ll make the pairings and decisions. He won’t let the players do it.”

That was a reference to the notion that some Ryder and Presidents cup captains have perhaps put too much emphasis on player input when making pairings. Among other cases, losing 2012 U.S. captain Davis Love III sat out the hot duo of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a Saturday afternoon session after Mickelson suggested they rest.

For certain, a Watson appointment would deviate from the PGA’s norm of naming a major champion in his late 40s and in touch with current pros via playing the PGA Tour. What’s more, Watson would be the first repeat U.S. captain since Jack Nicklaus led in 1987 at his Muirfield Village course.

Nelson applauds the outside-the-box thinking this time, saying, “I never understood that. My captains included Billy Casper and Dave Marr. They were both off the Tour but made the best captains.”

Other decorated players here expect the same of Watson, who will be 65 when the matches are held and would be the oldest U.S. captain ever (Sam Snead was 57 in 1969).

“It’s a good move,” said Hall of Famer Lanny Wadkins, a longtime friend of Watson’s. “I think the PGA of America, like a lot of us involved in the Ryder Cup a long time, are tired of losing. It’s good that today’s players might take on a personality like Watson’s instead of just focusing on having fun. You can have fun after you win. Guys (on recent teams) talk about having fun playing pingpong (in the team room). Forget pingpong. I don’t care who wins at pingpong.”

Wadkins said Watson would, first and foremost, bring “attitude” to the U.S. team. Wadkins was on Watson’s winning 1993 team and recalls the captain saying at a Saturday night meeting, “You know, boys, we are going to win tomorrow – because I’m the luckiest S.O.B. who ever lived.”

“That’s the attitude he’ll bring,” said Wadkins, captain of a losing side in 1995. “It’s, ‘We are going to win just because we are.’ The inmates won’t be running the asylum. The Ryder Cup is not about the buddy system. It’s about kicking the Europeans’ butts.”

When asked about Watson’s expected appointment, Lee Trevino quickly said, “Why are they skipping Larry Nelson?” Then he endorsed the idea of Watson, saying it makes sense for reasons other than the fact Watson is popular in Scotland.

“I think he’ll be great,” said Trevino, captain of a losing team in 1985. “He’s all business. That’s good. B.S. with this having fun. Go beat someone. Watson will tell everybody, ‘I don’t care if you have fun; just go out there and get it done.’ What he’ll bring to the table is a focus, and I think they’ll play hard for him.”

Jack Nicklaus, responding via email, called Watson "a good leader," citing his experience in the Ryder Cup and tournament success in Scotland.

“If you just look at Tom’s history and legacy there, I guess you could say that if they wanted to pick a winner in Scotland to lead them in Scotland, they have done that," said Nicklaus, who played in six Ryder Cups and captained the 1983 and '87 teams. "The love and embrace Tom will receive in Scotland as a Ryder Cup captain will likely be the most anybody could ever hope for when leading a team on foreign soil.”

Raymond Floyd, another Hall of Famer and former captain, said a nod to Watson would be an “awesome move” for reasons of respect, tradition and integrity.

“He has the respect of everybody, and there are still a lot of players he knows,” Floyd said. “I don’t know that anybody gets more respect than Tom.”

Bernhard Langer, winning European captain in 2004, concurred. He said Watson would be a great choice, in large part because the Scots adore him. But then he added an unsolicited thought.

“I think it’s a shame Larry Nelson was never captain,” Langer said. “He’s a tough competitor, with a great record.”

Mark O'Meara, a three-time major champion, sounded the same theme. O'Meara praised Watson, but that wasn't his main sentiment. "I've said it before, and I say it now: I think Larry Nelson should be the next Ryder Cup captain."

– Alex Miceli contributed

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