Captain's Blog: A throwback U.S. Open and Ryder Cup planning
Leading up to the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Perthshire, Scotland, U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson will periodically check in with PGA.com to talk about the various things going on in his life on the course, off the course and in his Ryder Cup preparations. This is the second installment of Watson's, 'Captain's Blog,' as told to PGA.com's T.J. Auclair.
By Tom Watson
2014 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain
The U.S. Open at Merion was fantastic this year. It was far different than what we've seen in recent years. The rough was a lot deeper and we didn't see the "graduated" rough the USGA has used the last several years.
As a result, there were complaints from players. That's how it was when I played in all those USGA events years ago and it's the way USGA events are supposed to be. The rough is a lot deeper and it magnifies errors. A major or minor error is penalized more than in a regular tournament.
The rough at Merion was so tough that even the strongest players weren't able to advance it to the greens. All the talk leading into the U.S. Open was about how short Merion is, playing at just less than 7,000 yards. However, that quickly became a non-issue. One over won the tournament and that's precisely how the USGA wants its courses set up. Par -- in the eyes of the USGA -- is the ultimate final score. If you shoot par, you win.
It was a unique course if you look at it. There were a lot of short holes, but also some extremely long holes -- like a couple of the par 3s. They messed up with the 274-yard, par-3 third on Sunday. They just had the wrong wind direction for the hole to be playing at that length and Phil Mickelson let them know about it.
I was at Merion on Tuesday and stood at the par-3, 17th tee for about four hours. They played to a 258-yard hole location that day and it was slightly downhill and into the wind. I was amazed at the length they hit the ball. Players were hitting irons over 240 yards over the false front and onto the green. I couldn't even think of hitting an iron from back there! It was impressive.
U.S. Opens are just so difficult. Everything from the narrowness of the fairways to the length of the rough to the speed and firmness of the greens. Of course, I don't think the firmness of the greens was much of a factor last week just because of the rain, but the design of the greens and the speed still made it difficult for the players.
I’ll say it again – that's the U.S. Open. Those are the things you think about when you think of a U.S. Open. I was lucky enough to win one and my forte certainly wasn't hitting fairways. The USGA forces you to be more focused than ever and hitting fairways is a must.
There were six Americans (Phil Mickelson T2; Jason Dufner T4; Billy Horschel T4; Hunter Mahan T4; Steve Stricker T8; and Rickie Fowler T10) that finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Open and that was nice to see. Billy Horschel was impressive. He went through Q-School to make it on Tour this season and has played great, picking up a win recently. I welcome people like Horschel on the Ryder Cup team. I want new blood. I think it's important. Having new players every two years on the team is crucial to gain experience. Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan are great examples of that. They're still young, but they've already had a taste of a Ryder Cup too. And, at a U.S. Open, the pressure there rivals Ryder Cup pressure. That's why I'm always interested in watching the majors.
On the Ryder Cup front, we do have some things going on right now. We'll have some news on July 3 at the Greenbrier, where we’ll talk a little about the players who have jumped into the Ryder Cup standings after the U.S. Open and I'll also touch on what I've been doing for the start of the process of the Ryder Cup and much of that is logistical work.
During that gap between the Open Championship and the Senior British Open, I'll head over to see the hotel at Gleneagles and also the Centenary Course. I played golf in the early 80s at Gleneagles, but that was on the King's and Queen's Courses. This will be my first look at the PGA Centenary Course that Jack Nicklaus designed, the one we'll be playing the Ryder Cup on. Basically I'll get to see the course and the hotel and start talking logistics.
As for my own game, aside from the Masters, I've played five events on the Champions Tour this season, but I'm about to embark on a stretch where I'll play six of the next seven weeks and three of those will be with the kids on the PGA Tour (the Greenbrier Classic, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship).
I look forward to playing with the younger guys the next couple of years in at least four tournaments -- the Masters, Greenbrier, Open Championship and PGA Championship. I'll be around them and I want to get up close and personal. I want to see how they react under pressure and how they play in bad conditions.
As I keep saying: What kind of heart do they have?
That's what's most important to me.
Follow 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson on Twitter, @TomWatsonPGA.