Q&A with 2014 Team USA Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson
Shortly after being introduced as the 2014 Team USA Ryder Cup captain, the legendary Tom Watson sat down with PGA.com's T.J. Auclair for exclusive Q&A.
Q: So it's been a busy few weeks for you leading up to today. Can you tell me about that?
Watson: Well, I just traveled around the world for the first time in my life. Literally around the world. I left Kansas City about three weeks ago and I flew to Johannesburg, South Africa. I played a golf tournament there in Sun City. After that was over, I flew from Johannesburg to Sydney, Australia and played a golf tournament there for a week. Then I flew from Sydney to New York to prepare for today's announcement.
Q: During the press conference a few minutes ago, PGA President Ted Bishop talked about reaching out to the late Jim Huber from TNT just after the 2011 PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Bishop wanted to know what Jim thought about you as the potential 2014 captain in Scotland. Jim gave a ringing endorsement. Of course, he wrote a book with you called, "Four Days in July," after your amazing run at the 2009 Open Championship at Turnbury. Being that Jim is unfortunately no longer with us, how neat is it for you to know that a close friend actually had some input that led the PGA to it's decision to ask you to be the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain?
Watson: Jim was an icon in the business. There's no denying that. Whenever you needed a story, it was, "Let's put Jim on it." And the story was always good. That was his reputation and he sure lived up to that reputation. Being in his company, he was always well informed and he always had respect for the game of golf when he would talk to you about the game. When the tough issues came up, he could ask you about the tough issues without being confrontational. He knew how to ask the questions and that's what I always loved about Jim.
Q: The U.S. team hasn't won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil since 1993 -- the last time you were captain. You said you've waited 19 years to get the call to be captain again. What has intrigued you so much about wanting to come back and be captain again?
Watson: Well, I so enjoyed being captain in 1993. It was a great pleasure to be over there and experiencing that feeling of winning. It may have been different if we'd lost. But the feeling of winning is the reason why I wanted to come back again. Winning is what we're out here for as players. But when you do something for other people, meaning your other teammates, and you win together, that's something extra special. That's what being a winning captain feels like. You feel like you didn't do it. You know you didn't do it. But, you're so happy for your players, who did do it.
You're inside the curtain, so to speak. You're as one. You're doing it for the team and you're doing it for your country. I just love that feeling. I always wanted to have that feeling again. That's just life. You have a good feeling; you want to experience it over again.
Q: I found it interesting when I read recently that you haven't been to a Ryder Cup since 1993. How much has the tournament itself evolved since then?
Watson: I haven't gone, no. But I sure have paid close attention watching it. I would wake up in the morning early to watch it live over there in Europe. I have followed it closely.
I think it evolved as soon as Jack Nicklaus made the suggestion that the UK team and Ireland include all of Europe. That changed in 1979. We were very successful in 1979, but after that it was close and they started beating us. And they beat us badly a couple of times. I hate to see that happen for our country's team and our players.
I don't know how much of an affect I can have on the team. I hope I have a little bit of an affect on the team and I can help them feel more comfortable playing over there. I certainly have done well over there in my own personal career. And, as a captain, I've presided over a winning team in Europe in 1993. So, I've got some street cred. I've got some street cred, as far as the players are concerned.
I hope that lends itself to an easing of any tension they might have when they're playing the Ryder Cup over there.
Q: With all of the success that you've had in Scotland over your career, what does it mean to go to Scotland as The Ryder Cup captain?
Watson: Well, it's interesting, because Ted [Bishop}, when we were talking about early on in the conversation about me being captain, Ted said, "How many times do you think it's been played in Scotland, The Ryder Cup Matches?"
I said, "Well, I don't know."
He said, "Just once before. This will be the second time it's been played in Scotland."
Unless you count the 1921 Matches, which were played, ironically, at Gleneagles. You had Walter Hagen playing for the U.S. Team. You had Ted Ray, Harry Vardon, George Duncan playing for the British team. They beat us 10 4 in the matches, something like that. It was put up by a man named (James) Harnett, like Sam Ryder, who six years later started the Cup. They went over on a boat, back in those days, obviously didn't fly, and they had these matches at Gleneagles in 1921. So we are returning to the fold of the beginnings of The Ryder Cup.
Q: How hard is it for you to fathom that a U.S. team hasn't won in Europe since you were captain in 1993?
Watson: The Europeans have done something very clever. The venues on which they play the Ryder Cup are the same venues that they use for regular European Tour tournaments. The players play those venues, those golf courses on a year-in and year-out basis. So, they're familiar with those golf courses. They're much more familiar with them than we are. When we go over, we're only playing three or four practice rounds.
You can't get the full range of understanding a golf course unless you've played it in a variety of conditions. Many times you go over there and you may just have one wind direction for the 2, 3, or 4 days you practiced there. The European players have played the course under all weather and wind conditions over the years. There's an advantage there. It's clever and I think it's one of the reasons they've been successful there.
Q: As a competitive guy, what does it mean to you when we see reports -- true or false -- that the European side might be changing its captain's selection because Tom Watson is so beloved in Scotland? Basically, they think they have to level the playing field. Does that give you a chuckle?
Watson: Believe me. It will make no difference whether I'm captain or not, where the crowds loyalties will lie. I do get a chuckle at the thought of the talk, but I don't think it's true. This is part of the whole procedure of the Ryder Cup. You're always looking to try and create an advantage. Whatever you do.
The bottom line is how the players are playing and how they compete. When you're playing on a Ryder Cup team, the pressure is greater. You're not playing for yourself and that pressure manifests itself in a lot of different ways. If I, as a captain, can reduce that pressure in any way, that's my ultimate goal.
Humor, getting their marks set, knowing where they're supposed to be when they ask the question for the fifth time and not getting upset -- that's part of the deal. It's part of being a good captain I think.
Q: Last question for you. As a player or a captain, what is your most memorable Ryder Cup moment?
Watson: My most memorable Ryder Cup moment was at the opening ceremony at Walton Heath in 1981 with Dave Marr as our captain. Listening to his opening speech, introducing us as players, seeing those flags go up. Our flag go up and hearing the National Anthem. That was spine-tingling for me. That really, really affected me greatly. I was on a team playing for the United States. I had never done that before. I had played on football teams, for your school. Basketball teams, for your school. Golf team. But, I had never played on an international team before and that was a big moment in my life.