Tom Watson named Ryder Cup Captain for 2014
It is now confirmed that Tom Watson will be given the honour of being the next US Ryder Cup Captain in 2014 at Gleneagles.
After a week of much debate and conjecture, the open secret is finally out. This decision may help the PGA of America put to bed – or at least consign to recent history – the fateful events at Medinah in September, though the pain will linger on.
Whilst the previous captain, Davis Love III, is a truly well liked and respected player in his own right, Tom Watson will bring with him a completely different aura. He will almost certainly receive deferential respect from all those on the opposition, both from players and those watching in the gallery. No more so than in Scotland where he is so hugely respected and admired. It will feel almost prodigal – he won four of his five Opens in Scotland – a feeling that has only been enhanced further in recent times with his ‘almost win’ at Turnberry in 2009. There will be no antipathy nor ill will displayed to Watson.
Watson will return as Captain, surprisingly still being the last American Captain to win on European soil, which he did in 1993 at the Belfry. He will be 65 in 2014, by far the oldest American captain in recent times, he will also be of a different mould than recent captains who all seem to have had a single major title to their names and still in their 40s. It would also pave the way for another seasoned golfer to receive the nod in 2016.
Widely tipped this time around was Larry Nelson who beat Watson by 1 stroke at the 1983 US Open. Nelson, 65, also won 2 PGA Championships, is a Hall of Famer with 10 PGA wins and 19 Champions Tour wins. More importantly, Nelson is a 3 time Ryder Cup player who had a perfect 9-0 record for his first two outings in 1979 and 1981. Even after an unsuccessful 1987 at Muirfield Village, Nelson still maintains one of the very best records of all modern players 9-3-1. Interestingly, Watson also owns a fine record of his own 10-4-1.
Perhaps the location and setting of the 2014 Ryder Cup had a lot to do with the choice of Tom Watson over others. Scotland is a second home to Watson, and no one can compare with his record there, even Nelson did not fare well in previous Opens, his best finish a T12 in 1980 at Muirfield, which was won by Watson. If Watson holds aloft the Ryder Cup Trophy at Gleneagles in 2014, you can almost certainly expect a rapturous applause. Perhaps 2016 is a better time, and place, for a character like Nelson.
In 2016 the Ryder Cup returns to American soil at Hazeltine National in Minnesota. Regardless of the result at Gleneagles, the PGA of America will be desperate to bring victory and finally put a nail in the coffin of 2012 and expunge the memories of ‘The Miracle of Medinah’. The American public need to win. No, they demand a win, and on home soil Larry Nelson would seem to be an ideal choice.
Nelson took up the game late and didn’t become a professional until he was 27. In fact he didn’t even take up the game until he was 21, and this was after he had spent two years in the Army. Nelson was drafted and served in Vietnam. Nelson’s background would be like manna from heaven to the citizens of Minneapolis, a heartland of conservative America, it would be foolhardy not to at least consider Nelson.
Interestingly, the PGA of America awarded Nelson the PGA Distinguished Service Award in 2011, clearly showing how much they hold Nelson in their regard. On receiving the award then PGA President Allen Wronowski remarked that “Larry Nelson is one of golf’s consummate champions, who performed at the highest level on many of the game’s grandest stages and has carried himself with dignity and grace to become one of the sport’s most respected ambassadors”.
Perhaps this debate should serve as a new ploy by the PGA of America, a sort of horses-for-courses approach to deciding who the next captain will be. If this were the case then I’d be heading to my bookmaker right now to get odds of a US win in 2016, but I am getting ahead of myself here.
There are others who are in contention for the captaincy in 2016, notably David Toms, Fred Couples, even current stars Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson have been mooted, and in this day and age where respect for the older generation seems to be waning, in all probability the PGA of America will consider Nelson too old and too removed from the PGA Tour to be a captain.
I hope to be surprised in two years time and I hope the PGA confer the honour to someone who can carry the burden and responsibility of captaincy with humility, competitiveness and sportsmanship as a player and gentleman of the game of golf. And if it was as simple as that then it might be hard to ignore a man like Larry Nelson.