By Ken MacLeod
Tom Watson didn’t mince words when he gave his brethren in the American Society of Golf Course Architects a Ryder Cup update Tuesday morning at the conclusion of the group’s annual meeting in Tulsa.
"We have a problem," the U.S. team captain said. "We’ve lost seven of the last nine Ryder Cups and that doesn’t sit very well with me."
Nine of Watson’s team members will make the team by their performance while the other three Watson will select on Sept. 2. From a leadership standpoint, Phil Mickelson will likely be one of those captain’s picks if not eligible otherwise. Beyond that, it sounded like Watson would take anyone he thought would have the nerve to step up and make the same kind of crucial putts he did routinely throughout his Hall of Fame career.
"What I really want is the guy that can make that 5-foot putt when all the chips ride on that putt," Watson said. "I want someone with guts. Toughness. Someone who latches on to you like a terrier and won’t let go."
"Right now, I’m trying to get to know these players, and more importantly, their caddies. Because the caddies will give the straight scoop on what I want to know about them."
Watson revealed that when he first received the call from incoming PGA of America President Ted Bishop the name didn’t register with him and he asked if he could call him back later. When it did register in their later conversation, Watson told Bishop it was the call he’d been waiting on for more than 20 years. Watson led the U.S. to victory in 1993, the last U.S. captain to win in Europe.
Watson raised eyebrows recently when he reduced the number of captain’s picks from four to three, preferring to reward one more player who earned his spot through the points system.
"I want those young players," he said. "My strategy is to keep it simple. You have one purpose on the team, and that is to go out and win. And don’t just barely win. Bury them."
Watson told a story about how Dave Stockton made three long key putts in succession to combine with Jerry McGee to win a key alternate shot match in the 1977 Ryder Cup.
"He said, ‘just get me on the green.’ They started calling him ‘just get me on the green Stockton.’ That’s the type of guy that you want on your Ryder Cup team. Those are the guys I’m trying to identify."
Stockton has a strong Tulsa connection, having won the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, assisted by young Southern Hills caddie Jed Day.
Of course, Watson knows defeating the tough European squad is much easier said than done, but he wants his players performing with verve and confidence. He said the weather Sept. 23-28 at Gleneagles during the Ryder Cup should be very Scottish, with highs in the mid-50s and lows in the high 40s, with great chances for wind and rain.
"I have made sure the rain suits don’t leak," Watson joked, referring to the less-than watertight suits the U.S. donned in 2010 in Wales.
"Really, I have two jobs. One, pick the three captain’s picks. Two, pair them up. That’s all I have to do."
Notes: Watson talked after the meeting about his role at the new Himalayas putting course at Top of the Rock in Branson, where the Legends of Golf will be played in early June. Watson is friends with Bass Pro owner Johnny Morris. He will play in the four-ball event with Andy North.
"Johnny is trying to create an outdoor sportsmen’s paradise," Watson said, referring to the natural history museum, par-3 course, practice course, putting course and other features.
Watson said Branson is crammed with wild miniature golf courses and he wanted to take the same theme to a real course.
"My idea was why not build a unique fantasy course on a real green. We’ve got 18 feet of elevation change on an acre. The grass will be kept slower like they used to cut greens, about five or six on the stimpmeter. It should be a lot of fun."
Unfortunately, Watson also revealed that Ryder Cup commitments will keep him from playing in the U.S. Senior Open scheduled July 10-13 at Oak Tree National.