BY BRIAN SULLIVAN
A wave of criticism surrounds Tom Watson’s approach to being captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team after another sound defeat at the hands of the Europeans. After Phil Mickelson blasted Watson’s strategy in an awkward news conference, and word of Watson’s negative Saturday night comments to his team were revealed, Watson’s captaincy has been viewed as a failure by most.
While it’s safe to say that Captain Tom’s “you stink at foursomes” speech won’t replace Knute Rockne’s “win one for the Gipper” in the annals of great motivational moments in sport, I don’t think it mattered.
Watson and this team had little chance.
The U.S. entered the Ryder Cup as overwhelming underdogs for a reason. American golf has stumbled into an era where its best are inferior to Europe’s best. Only Patrick Reed would dare to believe in the fantasy of a victorious Ryder Cup squad on which he was the top performer. Tiger Woods is injured and no longer the same Tiger who ruled the golf world. America’s most talented player, Dustin Johnson, has fallen victim to the PGA Tour’s strict “seven-strikes-and-we’ll-be-forced-to-admit-you’re-not-injured” misconduct policy. Jason Dufner is injured as well. If Captain Tom had used Paul Azinger’s Pod structure, as Mickelson advised, we would have seen Pods of American players losing matches.
It’s reasonable to second guess the omission of Chris Kirk and Ryan Moore as captain’s picks, and it’s fair to criticize Watson’s abusive, grumpy old man style. It is unreasonable, however, for the U.S. team to be “despondent” that Watson scoffed at their gift: a replica Ryder Cup trophy signed by the players. As John McEnroe famously said, “You can’t be serious, man. You CANNOT be serious!”
This may be the worst gift idea of all time.
Tom Watson does not want a perpetual reminder of his failure, signed by the players he blames for his failure. Watson hurt everybody’s feelings when he told them their gift meant nothing if they didn’t win the real Ryder Cup. Can you blame him? I, for one, think he made a good point.
I caddied for Mathew Goggin, who was paired with Tom Watson, in the final Sunday twosome at Turnberry in the 2009 British Open. Goggin and Watson shared the lead for much of the back nine. That experience was scintillating. Watson pulled ahead and moved into position to win with a birdie on the 17th hole.
I saw, firsthand, the vicious competitor in Watson emerge when he closed in on what appeared to be a historic British Open win as he approached his 60th birthday. He was intense, he was focused and he was taking no prisoners. This man does not want a replica trophy. Sorry, boys, but you stink at foursomes and you stink at gift ideas, too. I wonder if Jim Furyk and Co. were the ones who suggested the pathetic “AL Championship Series” banner hanging at Safeco field, too.
Watson knows precisely the prestige associated with being a victorious Ryder Cup captain, as he led the Americans to victory in 1993. He desperately wanted to double down. Instead, his legacy will be mildly tarnished by the fallout from this 2014 debacle at Gleneagles, Scotland. His negative style was questionable, at best, but the loss was not his fault.
Brian Sullivan lives in Bellingham and grew up in the Seattle area and graduated from the University of Washington in 1994. He has caddied on the PGA and Web.com golf tours since 1998, working with Jeff Gove, Mathew Goggin, Matt Peterson, Michael Muehr, John Senden and Nick O’Hern.
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