Watson echoes '93 vision: 'Keep it simple'

Tom Watson took as many as six players into consideration for his third captain's pick for Team USA.
Tom Watson took as many as six players into consideration for his third captain's pick for Team USA. ( Associated Press )

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The fact that U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson made his three picks in the same studio where the comedy "Saturday Night Live" is shot was only a coincidence.

The picks were neither funny nor surprising, with Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson all getting the nod Tuesday night in New York.

But it wasn’t as easy to decide on those three as it might have looked, Watson said, even though the list of candidates didn’t change drastically, he said.

After the picks were announced, Watson told Golfweek in a separate interview that he wanted to be comprehensive in his analysis, which is why in recent weeks he considered Bill Haas, Ryan Moore, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Palmer, Chris Kirk and Brooks Koepka.

According to Watson, he took a “good look at Koepka” before settling on his three picks, which he said weren’t finalized until Tuesday morning, before he left his home in Kansas City.

Koepka, 24, a third-year touring pro out of Florida State, would have been the only wild card, because he never ranked highly on the U.S. points list after having competed mostly on the European Tour. Watson liked Koepka's performances in the majors, notably a tie for fourth in the U.S. Open and a tie for 15th in the PGA.

Watson in his own words waffled between Simpson and another player whom he would not name, but all indications are that it was Kirk. Watson said he was swayed toward Simpson when he saw some reports on his desk about how Simpson had paired so well with Bubba Watson two years ago at Medinah.

The duo won two of their three matches, both by 5-and-4 scores against their European opponents, and that sealed the deal for Watson.

Although Kirk injected himself in the mix with his victory Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Simpson’s experience in 2012 ultimately emerged as the overriding factor.

“Other factors,” Watson said of why he didn’t take the hot Kirk. “Being a rookie was a big part of it.”

Once Simpson was informed Tuesday morning, Watson started making the other calls – from Kansas City and upon arriving in New York – to the unlucky few who were not chosen.

The approach seems similar to how previous captains have managed the message, but it wasn’t.

In what had been somewhat of a tradition, the captain had established a makeshift war room in New York the night before the picks and huddled with his vice captains and other confidants.

Like a political campaign, the group would work the phones and talk with the players already on the team about the picks.

In Paul Azinger’s case in 2008, he waited to get the nod from Ben Curtis late Monday night before deciding on Chad Campbell.

Watson decided to handle his selections much differently. He limited his discussions to his two vice captains, Steve Stricker and Andy North, in phone calls during the past week or so. He placed special emphasis on the insights of Stricker, who still competes on Tour.

“I had Steve Stricker as an ear to the team,” Watson said. “I wanted some very unbiased opinions.”

Phil Mickelson, who will be playing in his 10th consecutive Ryder Cup, said last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass., that he had not been asked by Watson for an opinion.

“It's not my place to intercede," Mickelson said, "so I'm waiting for a call. I haven't received one.”

And he wouldn’t.

Watson’s approach was a little different than his previous captaincy, in 1993, when he picked Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins more on gut than numbers. The two, major champions and future Hall of Famers, helped Watson fill a need for veteran players.

To hear Watson explain it, he didn’t stray far from his '93 script. When he arrives at Gleneagles in Scotland later this month, his approach in managing the team will be similar to that match two decades ago, when the Americans won at The Belfry, the last U.S. victory overseas.

“I’m going to play the players that are playing well,” Watson said. “I like to keep it simple.”