MISSION HILLS, Kan. - Kansas City golf legend Tom Watson has returned home after being named the 2014 Ryder Cup Captain.
Watson held a news conference on Wednesday at Kansas City Country Club, the course he grew up playing. For Watson, it was good to be home.
"I've gone from South Africa to Sydney and then back to New York trying to keep this announcement secret for a couple of days in New York,” he said. “And then making the announcement last Thursday about the 2014 Ryder Cup and then back to Kansas City. Last night, 10 hours felt really good."
Throughout this process, Watson definitely proved that he can keep a secret. The PGA of America first approached Watson about being the next Ryder Cup Captain in November of last year. The organization’s president, Ted Bishop, gave Watson a phone call.
“I was up in South Dakota with the wounded warriors on a pheasant shoot and pheasant hunt up there in the middle of a field walking and I got a phone call,” Watson said. “And I said, 'I better take this.’ He called and said I'd like to talk to you about the Ryder Cup. I'm walking around trying to scare up some birds. And I said, ‘I really can't talk now, can I call you back later tonight?’ And I did. And the conversation continued from there. Ted Bishop called me and I was in that pheasant field, he didn't know what I was really thinking. When he called me on the phone and he said, ‘I'd like to talk to you about the Ryder Cup,’ I was thinking ‘I'd been waiting for this call for almost two decades’. I always wanted to be captain again. In particular, over there. The process was to go the board and discuss with the board that I was the right candidate. The board then in about a year concurred. They came to Kansas City where they formally offered me the captaincy of the Ryder Cup in 2014 and I accepted.”
Watson and Bishop appeared on the NBC "Today Show" last Thursday to officially announce his captaincy. Watson will lead the U.S. Ryder Cup team in Gleneagles, Scotland, September 26-28, in 2014. He knows the weather might not be ideal and will play a factor in determining who he chooses for the U.S. team.
“I'll be watching, particularly to see how they play in bad weather,” he said. “The average temperature in Gleneagles in September is 56 degrees. Everyone is going to wear rain suits. We better get a really good looking rain suit.”
When Watson played in previous Ryder Cups, he was used to playing on winning American teams. The 1988 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee made four Ryder Cup appearances as a player and tallied a 10-4-1 record. Watson played on four U.S. Ryder Cup teams: 1977, 1979, 1983 and 1989. The U.S. won every one of those years, except 1989 when it tied with Europe. But lately, the U.S. has fallen short to Europe.
"In the last 9 Ryder Cups, we've only won twice,” Watson said. “My job basically is to create the framework in which success can be had by the team. That's my job. Bottom line. How do I do that? Am I relevant? At my age, the oldest Ryder Cup Captain, am I relevant? I answer that question absolutely. I still play against these kids, if you will, 3 times or more each year. The Masters, The British Open, The Greenbrier Classic, I understand that type of competition. I play on the Champions Tour. I played at the Australian Open a week and a half ago, who won that? Peter Senior, Champions Tour player, he beat al the kids so we can still play. As I say am I relevant, yeah I'm relevant. I know what it takes. I've been there as a player, captain, I still play, I understand what these young men and maybe a few older men will go through when they're on the Ryder Cup team and can relate directly to that. And that's all that matters. For them to have the trust in me, to make the right decisions to put the team together, and any other decisions relevant to their success as a team. That's my job. Bottom line, that's my job. That's what I intend to do."
The Kansas City golf legend says the U.S. might be struggling to beat Europe, but he has faith in his team.
“We have the talent to beat the European team,” he said. “They have a couple of upcoming stars, Rory McIIroy, he's going to be there for a lot of years. To beat Rory is going to be a feather in your cap if you're an American player."
Watson will be the first repeat Ryder Cup Captain since Jack Nicklaus in 1987. Watson led the 1993 U.S. Ryder Cup team to victory.
"There are more distractions,” Watson said. “When I was named Ryder Cup Captain in 1993, it was like, okay, we'll have a few announcements and then really nothing really started until the year of the Ryder Cup. Now, my responsibilities are greater in terms of time I'll spend in promoting the Ryder Cup for the PGA of America.”
In terms of strategy of picking players, Watson has his own method.
“It's my goal as captain to put the best players out there to win,” he said. “One of the problems you have is that all 12 players who come in there aren't playing their best. There will be a few players playing
average or not playing up to their average. It's my chore as captain to determine that and put the best playing players together to win this cup. If that results in players only playing once the first two days, than that's the case. That's what I did in 1993. I might have taken some grief from that but on the other hand we won the Cup and I think the players all responded to that even the ones I sat."
Why does Watson want to be the Ryder Cup captain again? The answer is fairly obvious. There’s no doubting his love for the event.
"In my case the Ryder Cup was always the premier event to play every two years,” he said. “I'm playing for my country. My favorite Ryder Cup memory was my first Ryder Cup, at the opening ceremonies. Watching the United States Flag go up that flag pole. And you hear the national anthem. That still gives me chills because I'm sitting there in the gray skies of Lytham and St. Annes and everybody has a team outfit watching this go up. I said, 'man I'm here playing for my country.’ I've never done that before. That was one of the best experiences in my career as a golfer."
Watson should also help the U.S. team based on his experiences in Europe. Four of his five British Open victory came in Scotland. But he’s still trying to learn about the Ryder Cup course.
“I haven't played the course in its present condition,” Watson said. “Jack Nicklaus redesigned the course. It's called the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles. I've taken the virtual tour of every hole on the course. There's a good website. It has lots of angles, meaning it's not straight. Traditionally, your links courses over there are kind of straight. The European team has an advantage over us. It's not that they’re playing in front of a home crowd. The advantage they have is they're playing a golf course in which they play a regular European Tour event every year. These players play that golf course many more times than our team will have a chance to play that golf course. We have to know that golf course the best we can under the conditions that it gives us."
As Ryder Cup Captain, Watson will look to provide strong leadership skills for his players. In 1993, he met with then-KU Head Basketball Coach Roy Williams for advice on leadership. He’s taking a new approach this time.
“Your business has been getting into locker rooms after football games to hear what coaches have to tell their players,” Watson said to the media at his news conference at Kansas City Country Club. “I'm starting to pick up on that and using that and putting some thoughts back in this Swiss cheese memory of my mind and trying to write some of these thoughts down to see if anything sticks with me to see if it applies to a team Ryder Cup. When I went to Roy, he said, ‘Tom there are a couple of things I'd do. I tell my players when they go to an away game, I said two things I want you to do..I want you to make the crowd go silent first and then make the crowd leave early.’ I told my team that. I remember Payne Stewart coming up to me on the 18th hole in 1993 when Ray Floyd had the last match. We had already won the match. And Payne came up to me just jumped on my back and said, ‘hey coach, coach look at the stands up there. They're half empty. I said, uh huh. You did what I asked you to do.’ Whatever it takes to inspire the team. I don't motivate, I inspire. I hope I can inspire by example. Maybe say a few words that kind of help them out, like some practical tips of traveling overseas, getting used to the time change. Don't worry about your golf swing so much because your body is not adjusted to the time change. Don't try to fix something immediately. Let your body adjust to the time change. Just let it happen for a couple of days, then the fourth day if it's not working, maybe be concerned then but don't be too concerned early about the way you're hitting. It will be kind of common sense things. I'm not too inspirational. It's kind of like Nicklaus. “You guys are adults, you're here for a reason, you're motivated to win, you've been getting your clocks cleaned for the last 9 years. Go out and do it.’ That type of attitude."
Watson also revealed he’ll travel to the PGA Championship Aug. 5-11 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. next year. Watson usually plays the Masters, British Open and The Greenbrier Classic. However, you also might see the 63-year-old a few more times on the PGA Tour at some point.
“I might play a few more to be with the players,” he said. “Not so much this year maybe next year if I can still hit it. I'm going to the PGA this year up at Oak Hill in Rochester. I may play that. I'm not sure yet. It's a course I haven't had much success on. I'm looking at that from a practical standpoint.”
Watson also has other decisions to make. He will identify a caddy liaison to assist the caddies to learn more about the Ryder Cup course in Scotland. His former caddy, the late Bruce Edwards, performed that role in 1993 at The Belfry in England. Watson
also has to select assistant captains. His long-time mentor and coach, former Kansas City Country Club head pro Stan Thirsk, was Watson’s lone assistant in 1993.
“ I asked Stan to go over and be my eyes and ears of how the players were playing,” Watson said. “I wanted him to give me an honest assessment. I had to choose who's playing well and who's not. Now I get four Vice Captains.”
Watson won’t name his assistants until 2014. He also gets to choose additional players for the team. He doesn’t have to make those captain’s picks until the Monday after Labor Day, 2014. He’s still deciding whether to choose the now-standard four captain’s picks or only pick two players like he did in 1993.
“There are options there,” he said. “I didn't pick anyone from 11-18 (in the rankings) in 1993. Those players weren't playing well. I went with experience. I picked Lanny Wadkins and Ray Floyd. Options are still open.”
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