Commentary

Tom Watson set to lead Team USA

Updated: December 14, 2012, 2:58 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Fork OFF! That's what one headline said in a British tabloid during the 1993 Ryder Cup matches at the Belfry after Sam Torrance got peeved at U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson for not letting him get his menu autographed by U.S. players at the pre-tournament banquet.

That was the last time the U.S Ryder Cup team had a victory in Europe and retained the cup.

The PGA of America remembered that glorious history from the '93 Belfry matches and has tabbed Watson for his second stint as the U.S. captain. The organization of 27,000 club professionals is betting on the 63-year-old Watson to bring some of that gamesmanship from those '93 matches to a U.S. squad that has lost seven of the last nine Cups.

On Thursday, Watson was in New York to make official his two-year stint as the new captain of the U.S. team that will face the Europeans in the 2014 matches in Gleneagles, Scotland. The PGA of America made the announcement from the grand setting of the 80th floor of the Empire State Building.

"I think it's important for the people to understand that the PGA of America has an obligation to try to pick and find the captain that we feel is going to put our team in the best position to win," said Ted Bishop, the president of the PGA of America. "And quite frankly, I know I speak for a lot of people when I say we are just really tired of losing the Ryder Cup.

"And the decision to name [Watson] as our next captain, a lot of that was just about our weariness of what's happened in the past Ryder Cups, and we certainly hope that trend can change," added Bishop, who pointed to Watson's four Open Championship wins in Scotland.

Watson was questioned Thursday about his relationship with Tiger Woods, saying that it is fine despite some less than flattering remarks that he has made about the 14-time major champion over the years. In early 2010, Watson famously took a very high and mighty tone with the 74-time tour winner.

"I feel that he has not carried the same stature that other great players that have come along like Jack [Nicklaus], Arnold [Palmer], Byron Nelson, the Hogans, in the sense that there was language and club throwing on the golf course," Watson said back in 2010. "You can grant that of a young person that has not been out here for a while. But I think he needs to clean up his act and show the respect for the game that other people before him have shown."

But on Thursday, Watson tried to strike a chord of harmony with this generation's best player.

"[Tiger] brings a stature to the team that is unlike any other player on the team," Watson said. "And if he's not on the team for any unforeseen reason, and I'm sure he will be, you can bet that he's going to be No. 1 on my pick list.

"Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge."

Tiger was equally diplomatic about his new captain.

"Tom knows what it takes to win, and that's our ultimate goal," Tiger said in a statement. "I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the 2014 United States Team."

Displaying a gift for metaphor and looking perfectly tailored in a gray suit, Watson said he had been waiting for close to 20 years for another opportunity to lead the American side. On Wednesday night, Watson saw "The Book Of Mormon" on Broadway with his wife, Hillary, and he likened his role of captain to that of a stage manager.

"I prepare the stage for the actors," Watson said. "In this case the players. This responsibility is a challenge, but I've been there before and I welcome it.

"It's going to be a great journey these next couple years, and I hope that we will change the tide."

Still a very formidable player, just three years removed from nearly winning his sixth Open Championship at Turnberry, the 39-time PGA Tour winner quickly challenged any concerns that he might not be able to connect with younger players.

"We play the same game, and they understand that," he said. "I understand that. And it's my challenge simply to maybe set the stage with a little extra inspiration for them to go out along with some Watson luck, that I think propelled us to victory in 1993."

The Ryder Cup matches have come a long way since Watson played in his first Cup in 1977 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, when the matches were a modest little friendly contest dominated by the Americans. As he expressed his joy about another chance to lead an American Ryder Cup team, he occasionally referred to a decal of Seve Ballesteros on one of the 80th-floor windows.

It was his way, a distinctly Watson way, of connecting the past with the present and the antecedents that made the Ryder Cup a giant sports spectacle.

In '93, Watson, then 44 and 10 years removed from his last major win at the '83 Open Championship, took his side to Birmingham, England, on the Concorde from New York in 3 hours, 5 minutes. But before the world's fastest commercial airplane took off, Watson gave a speech.

"It's going to be a grand adventure," he told his 12 players. "It's going to be incredible."

On Thursday, Watson was promising another grand adventure in 2014 at Gleneagles. The Kansas City, Mo., native said he will probably play a few more events over the next couple of years on the regular tour to get acquainted with the players who will make up his squad.

It's not likely that we will see from Watson the numbers crunching that we got from Tom Kite or the personality assessments from Paul Azinger or the passive approach to leadership favored by Davis Love III.

Watson, who had a 10-4-1 record in four Ryder Cup appearances, will fashion his own brand of leadership that will combine his 40-plus years as a professional with the unique circumstances of the team that comes together in late 2014.

In the middle of the bustling Manhattan lunch hour, Watson flipped the light switch to turn on the red, white and blue lights that preside atop the 102 floors of the Empire State Building. On Thursday night, the lights will shine in honor of the Ryder Cup and its new U.S. captain.

There is a new glow over the American Ryder Cup team.

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