KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tom Watson waited patiently for a phone call from The PGA of America, and it finally came last year.
Watson had guided the United States’ Ryder Cup team to victory over the European squad as captain in 1993 at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England, and he was interested in doing the job again.
When the call came from PGA president Ted Bishop, asking if Watson would be interested in the position for the 2014 matches in Gleneagles, Scotland, Watson certainly was.
“He called me over a year ago to start the process of thinking about being the captain,” Watson said of Bishop. “I said, ‘Boy, I’ve been waiting for this call for a long time.’
“Indeed, it’s an honor to be the captain again for the team. … I really wanted the challenge to do it again. This responsibility is a challenge, but I’ve been there before and I welcome it.”
The choice was applauded by golf legend Jack Nicklaus, who designed the course that will be used two years from now.
“Tom always has been a wonderful golfer and remains one, but he is also a good leader,” Nicklaus told ESPN. “He has had a lot of experience in the Ryder Cup, as a player and a previous captain. So I am certain that when he goes to Gleneagles, he will prepare properly to do a nice job.”
Watson, who was formally named captain last week, will be 65 when the biannual event is played Sept. 26-28, 2014, but he believes that he will be able to relate to the young players who will be on his team since he still plays against them each year at the Masters, British Open and Greenbrier Classic. Watson would consider playing in a few more PGA Tour events to help him get to know the younger guys even better.
“The idea of being captain for a team of youngsters will be questioned,” Watson said. “Why is Watson, being the old guy, being the captain? I deflect that very simply by saying: ‘We play the same game.’ ”
Bishop justified Watson’s selection based upon his success in Scotland, where he won four of his five British Open titles, and the fact he still plays at a high level against younger players. Watson made the cut last week at the Australian Open, and he tied for 28th place after closing with a 69 – the lowest final-round score of any of the 69 players who made the cut.
“The other key thing is just how revered this gentleman is in Scotland,” Bishop said. “He’s got a tremendous understanding of the culture, the country and its people. We also know about the unique weather challenges that Scotland will probably present, and I think we will agree that he is recognized as one of the top players under challenging conditions, and we certainly hope that that’s going to translate to our team, as well.”
Watson said he won’t change his approach much from 1993. One thing he will do is help his team handle the pressure of representing their country.
“The pressure is incredibly strong,” Watson said. “I believe the pressure in playing in the Ryder Cup and being a captain is as great or greater than playing for yourself in any major championship.”
Watson said he hopes to prepare by visiting the course next year.
“I’ll play the course and see the facility before we go there in 2014,” Watson said. “I hope that some of the players will do that, too.”
Watson acknowledged that he has had differences with Tiger Woods in the past, but he hopes that Woods will be part of the team. If Woods hasn’t qualified, Watson said he would expect to use one of his captain’s picks to give him a spot.
“He’s the best player maybe in the history of the game,” Watson said. “He brings a stature to the team that is unlike any other player on the team. 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.
“My relationship with Tiger is fine. Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge – no issues.”
The European team has won the event seven of the nine times it has been contested since Watson guided the U.S. to victory in 1993 – the event is now played in even years after it was delayed from 2001 to 2002 because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
But Watson isn’t ready to accept another loss.
“The bottom line is to win,” he said. “We’re tired of losing.”