Watson applies singular focus to regaining Ryder Cup
AUCHTERARDER, Scotland – On this side of the pond, it's known as “bottle.” On the western side of the Atlantic, it's called "heart." That’s what Tom Watson wants to see when he brings his U.S. Ryder Cup team back to Gleneagles next year in a bid to capture the elusive Ryder Cup.
At 64, Watson never has known defeat in the biennial matches against Europe's top pros. He played in four matches in the 1970s and '80s as the team went 3-0-1. He also captained the victorious Americans in 1993 at The Belfry, the last time the U.S. won overseas.
So when asked about the formula for victory, Watson struggled to succinctly define it, but he knows this much: “You want people that just give you everything," he said Tuesday in a ceremony here marking one year until the 2014 event at Gleneagles. "That's the bottom line.”
Watson, whose eight major championships include five Open Championships, might have an old-fashioned approach to winning, but that concept still has a place in the 21st-century game. Just as when Paul Azinger invoked his pods system for the 2008 matches at Valhalla, the concept – even in victory – proved puzzling.
Yet, Watson, like Azinger, believes that players comfortable in their surroundings will have the best chance of performing well. Because in the end, Watson says, it's all about the players. That's a lesson that captain Davis Love III learned all too well last year in a U.S. loss at Medinah.
“I know that I have the experience playing as a player, I have the experience of being a captain, and if I were a player on my team, looking at me, I'd say, 'Well, he has that experience,' ” Watson said. “That Ryder Cup experience; that's important.
Watson sees himself as a stage manager for his cast of performers. Yet he knows that his biggest job will come due about a month before the Ryder Cup, when he completes the 12-man team with three captain's picks.
“Essentially my most important job right there is pick the best players that I think can win the cup back for us,” Watson said. “That's my most important job, and I'm going to use all sorts of information to get there.”
Watson plans to meet with as many potential players as possible to get to know them. He intends to speak with caddies, wives and others close to the contenders who might offer insight into the best picks.
“As a captain, all I can do is put the best teams who are playing the best, and I'll be honest with the players. If you're not playing very well, you might not play very much,” Watson said of his philosophy. “That's the way I handled 1993. I didn't think that a couple of the players were playing well, and I didn't play them very much. I'm not going to be that equal that everybody is going to play the same number of matches. We're there to win.”
That's the attitude that the PGA of America sought when it appointed Watson earlier this year. So far, he has not disappointed. Regardless of what Watson does during the next 12 months leading up to the matches, he will have little to do with the outcome if the players don’t perform.
Watson reviewed last year's loss at Medinah, when Europe rolled through Sunday's singles matches, 8 1/2-3 1/2, for a stunning 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory. Since that Watson-led victory in 1993 in England, Europe has won seven of the past nine Ryder Cup.
“Get back to the point of the old Jim Colbert comment: Play better,” said Watson, quoting an American contemporary. "Statistically the European team was 25 under par on Sunday. The American team was 8‑under, collectively. They just ran the tables on us. We didn't play up to the standards we played the first couple of days, the second, third and fourth matches, and they did.”
Next year, Watson will do what he can to make sure that recent history doesn't repeat itself.