After 21 years, will Watson's Ryder Cup thinking change?
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Pssst, there are just 16 weeks left to gather Ryder Cup points. A glance at the standings shows that some noteworthy names are in serious need of forward progress.
Tiger Woods, of course, is 47th, but table him for a moment because he’s a unique situation. Only five Ryder Cup veterans – Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner and Phil Mickelson – are presently inside automatic territory (top nine). The latter two started the 2014 season in the top two spots so they’ve been sliding backward. Not a good sign.
The four who are sitting inside the top nine but don’t have Ryder Cup experience are Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Harris English.
One would think that Brandt Snedeker (28th), Hunter Mahan (24th), Keegan Bradley (19th), and Jim Furyk (17th) – veteran Ryder Cuppers all of them – best get a move on, and fast, while Steve Stricker (50th) would seem a long shot simply because of the few tournaments he takes on.
Also sitting outside the top nine, though just barely, are former team members Zach Johnson (10th) and Webb Simpson (12th).
All this, of course, gets you thinking about what captain Tom Watson might be looking for with his three picks. He’s on record as saying that Woods would have to be 1) healthy and 2) playing well. Since it’s difficult to speculate on either of those points, why bother till we see. Better to study Watson, since there is a body of work to go by – his 1993 Ryder Cup captaincy.
That year, four rookies made the team – Lee Janzen, Davis Love III, John Cook, and Jim Gallagher, Jr. – so Watson, who himself was 25th in the standings, opted for 50-year-old Raymond Floyd, 22nd in the standings despite playing primarily on the Champions Tour, and 43-year-old Lanny Wadkins, who was tied for 30th.
Talk about going deep and bypassing a lot of names, but you have to remember that back then you only got Ryder Cup points for top-10 finishes. There wasn’t a lot of movement and so Watson said what he studied more than anything was the way a guy was playing.
And what he saw that summer was . . . not much.
“The players from 11 through 17 played cruddy throughout the summer. They were missing cuts. They were finishing 56th. And now what am I going to do? I want players who are going in there having a good run.
“So I made the executive decision to go with some experience as I knew they were tough. I went deep.”
One of the names Watson passed by to choose Wadkins with his second pick was . . . Watson. Then 43, Watson made the cut in 13 of his 16 starts that year, finished top 15 six times, and was fifth in both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
“The way Tom has been playing, it might have been better for him to pick himself and pick me as an alternate captain,” Floyd said the night he got picked.
Floyd had played well in the Masters (T-11) and U.S. Open (T-7) and picked up a Champions Tour win, while Wadkins had done very little save for a T-14 in the PGA Championship.
So after giving consideration to Curtis Strange, Jeff Maggert, Larry Mize, Fuzzy Zoeller, Rocco Mediate, and John Daly, Captain Watson went with a pair of old hands who would vindicate the selections. Wadkins went 2-1 in team matches (he sat out the singles when Sam Torrance was hurt and could not play), while Floyd was 1-1 in team matches and beat Jose Maria Olazabal in a crucial singles match as the Americans won, 15-13.
It remains the last win on foreign soil. But if you’re thinking it bodes well for veterans who might be outside the top nine, think again.
Whereas Floyd and Wadkins had known Ryder Cup success, the veterans Watson might be looking at don’t. “If you look at the record of the older guys, we’ve been getting our butts handed to us in the Ryder Cup seven of the last nine,” Watson said. “So the record’s not very good.”
And if you wonder if Watson still cares about this Ryder Cup business, consider what has been the most gut-wrenching golf experience in recent time for him. The Open Championship of 2009? He said no. Instead, the 2012 Ryder Cup consumes him.
“If it’s not the greatest Ryder Cup match ever, it was close to it,” Watson said. “(But) I have to say that as an American, it ate a hole in my stomach for three or four days. Really, it ate a hole after watching (the Europeans mount a stunning rally in singles to win) that happen.
“I don’t think any other competition affected me that much for that long.”