Tom Watson has been named as the man to lead the US Ryder Cup team to Gleneagles in 2014. It is a decision that will likely polarize the onlookers of the golfing community due to his age. Watson will be 65 by the time the next Ryder Cup, the oldest captain in the event’s history.
Despite his obvious credentials, his appointment may be viewed with scepticism as an act of desperation. The US team endured a nightmarish end to this year’s Ryder Cup, finding themselves on the receiving end of a most inspired and dramatic comeback by the Europeans, condemning the Americans to a humiliating home loss. Equipped with a mouthwatering blend of major champions and experienced Ryder Cup players, the American team this year were tipped to do wow the home fans and seal a much needed win for the nation- Europe have clinched the cup in four out of the last five events. However, they came up against an emotionally charged European side, bearing the spirit of the late great Seve Ballesteros on their sleeves and in their hearts, and were crushed after a scintillating display from McIlroy, Poulter and the rest on a memorable singles session on Sunday. The Americans relinquished the commanding 10-6 lead they had held after outclassing Europe in Friday and Saturday’s Fourball and Foursome sessions, in the process damaging the pride and prestige of American golf.
The United States Golf Association have decided to act in response to that spectacular downfall of the 2012 squad in appointing a steady head and a legend of the game in Tom Watson. The 8-time major winner is widely regarded as one of the greatest golfers to have ever played the game, winning five Open Championships, participating in four Ryder Cups, and remaining the only man to have led the US team to victory on foreign soil since the USA vs. Europe format’s conception. Tom Watson is a winner through and through. This would appear to be a primary factor in his appointment. The United States will look to the veteran to instil his winning mentality into what will be a deflated team going into the next event at Gleneagles in two years time.
Watson has responded with enthusiasm, remarking that he hopes to add a “little extra inspiration” into the team and adding that he had “been waiting a long time” to see if he would ever be asked again after his successful captaining endeavour at the Belfry in 1993. Tiger Woods issued a statement shortly after the new broke: “I’d like to congratulate Tom Watson on his selection as Ryder Cup Captain. I think he’s a really good choice. Tom knows what it takes to win and that is our ultimate goal.” It is interesting to note that Watson exclaimed that Tiger Woods will be the first on his list for a captain’s pick if he fails in his bid for automatic selection. This may not be a popular remark considering scrutiny over Tiger Woods’ attitude towards playing in a team and the fact that he conceded a Fransesco Molinari putt on the 18th at Medinah, ultimately meaning that Europe won the cup outright, having only retained it to that point.
Watson certainly does know what it takes to win, especially in Scotland where he and his team will be headed in 2014. He lifted the Claret Jug at four different Open venues in Scotland; 1975 at Carnoustie, 1977 at Turnberry, 1980 at Muirfield and 1982 at Royal Troon. In each of those victories who went toe-to-toe with some giants of the game; Nicklaus, Trevino and Ballesteros all fell short in pursuit of Watson’s standard at the Open.
An unparalleled success in the oldest and greatest championship in golf indeed, it will not bear much significance in the outcome of the Ryder Cup match in 2014. Despite being revered as something of an ‘Honourary Scotsman’ and cutting one of the most likeable characters in sport, the unique pressures of leading a team of 12 to represent your country is something that nobody can imagine until they have actually achieved it. It is a great honour, and many great golfing figures have taken the step. However, it has not always ended in the fairytale victories of their own careers. Davis Love III lost dramatically this year despite being a great champion, so to Corey Pavin in 2010. There is no doubt that Tom will lead his men with style and enthusiasm, but whether or not they will stand up and fight the flying Europeans is another matter.
Speaking of, an announcement by the Europeans on who will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Olazabal, Montgomerie, Woosnam, Langer and Torrance as triumphant European leaders in recent times is due in January. Two Irishmen are frontrunners for the task, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley. Both men contributed as non-playing Vice Captains at this year’s “Miracle of Medinah” but will be eager to show their worth in leading Europe into one of the most intense sporting arenas. Rory McIlroy tweeted his support for Paul McGinley: “Congrats to Tom Watson, 2014 US Ryder Cup captain. I would love to see Paul McGinley go up against him as European Captain at Gleneagles!”
Whoever leads Europe will need the same spirit and determination displayed by the defiant Olazabal at this year’s tournament. Beating the Americans is no formality and under the stewardship of Tom Watson, they will be thirsty for revenge and raring to go in 2014, setting up what promises to be another unforgettable golfing tussle in the sport’s most famous event.