Thursday, December 20, 2012

Can Tom Watson Change the Fortunes of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team?

Written by Scott McCormick
It’s going to be a long two years for the cream of the American golfing crop, as they wait impatiently for the 2014 Ryder Cup to be held in Gleneagles, Scotland – when they will finally get the opportunity to wash the bitter, unpleasant taste of agonizing defeat out of their collective mouths.

Tom Watson Autographed Golf 8x10 PhotoThe Ryder Cup is held every other year, so 2013 will not afford the American team the chance to avenge their humiliating collapse at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago last September.

But just because – in this instance – revenge is a dish that will have to be served cold, doesn’t mean the American team hasn’t already begun plotting their vengeance.

Recently the U.S. Ryder Cup team named eight-time major champion Tom Watson to lead the squad when they take on the Europeans in Gleneagles, Scotland in September 2014.

Watson is certainly no stranger to success on British soil, having hoisted the Claret Jug at the British Open five times, and he nearly notched a record sixth win in 2009 at the age of 59, when he lost to Stewart Cink in a four-hole playoff at Turnberry.

Watson’s success in the British Isles has made him a revered figure in Scotland, and when he leads the team onto the course in Gleneages he will be attempting to be the first American captain to lead his team to victory on European soil since 1993, when Watson skippered the U.S. squad to a victory at The Belfry.

So it will be interesting to see how the pro-Euro crowds will treat Watson as he leads his team onto the first tee at the 2014 Ryder Cup. The intensity and passion of the home crowds has grown considerably on both sides of the pond over the last decade, and while it might be excepted that Watson himself might get a jovial reception from the crowd, you can certainly count on that welcome not being extended to his mates.

The bigger question is how Watson will approach the captaincy and whether his leadership can break the Americans out of the Ryder Cup funk they’ve been in for the last two decades.

It’s far too easy to place too much blame or praise at the feet of the captains in Ryder Cup play, and though there is some strategy to be employed as to who plays with whom and who sits out certain rounds, much of the captaincy role is defined by merely being a cheerleader, the lead rah-rah guy (a role Jose Maria Olazabal managed with aplomb back in September). At the end of the day, it’s up to the players to perform.

So blaming Davis Love III for his team’s Sunday collapse in this year’s event is probably foolhardy, but sports is about winning, and when the success doesn’t come, changes are made regardless of whether the losses were the direct fault of the leader.

Critics of American Ryder Cup captains in recent years have said that Love and others have gone too far in mollycoddling the players, not making tough decisions on their own and instead relying on some variation of team groupthink to determine the matchups, etc.

Watson brings a reputation for being rather resolute, sometimes to the point of hardheadedness, and so if toughness is in a leader is what the team needs, then Watson just might have the goods to deliver.

One interesting sub-plot to watch will be how Watson and certain-to-be U.S. team member Tiger Woods get along between now and September 2014. The two have not always seen eye-to-eye with Watson having unleashed a verbal diatribe towards Woods in 2010 criticizing him for his immature golf course actions that included repeated cursing and spitting. Watson was quoted at the time saying that Woods was not appropriately “respecting the game.”

Both men have commented publicly to the effect that their spat is long forgotten and that they are essentially fast friends now.

But it will be another of the many interesting things to watch over the next year or two.

Scott McCormick is a golfer and a golf writer, though he is more consistent in the latter than the former. His writing appears courtesy of, specialists in golf discounts.

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