*Photo credit kansascity.com*
It has been 8 days since the United States suffered another convincing loss at the hands of the cagey Europeans in Scotland. There has been an onslaught on captain Tom Watson and his handling of the American team.
The criticism could be classified as borderline excessive, but there is no lack of American patriotism and passion. In matches designed by Samuel Ryder as an exhibition, the event has taken on a life of its own, as the Ryder Cup is now one of the premier events in all of golf.
With the censure shelled Tom Watson’s way, it begs one question:
Does Tom Watson regret his captaincy of the 2014 United States Ryder Cup team?
The media has taken their shots. The American players have taken their shots. Fans worldwide have consumed the fuel dispensed by the media and players alike. Everyone would feel very comfortable standing on the driving range like the hacks below, firing shots at Watson in the range buggy:
It was all so much, Watson was forced to release a statement regarding the events that transpired.
“In response to all of the recent discussion about our Ryder Cup loss, I would like to make a few comments,” Watson’s statement read. “First, I take complete and full responsibility for my communication, and I regret that my words may have made the players feel that I didn’t appreciate their commitment and dedication to winning the Ryder Cup. My intentions throughout my term as Captain were both to inspire and to be honest.
“Secondly, the guys gave everything. They played their hearts out. I was proud to get to know each and every one of them. I know they are all going to win tournaments, be on future Ryder Cup teams and have wonderful careers.”
The Watson-slander-onslaught began almost immediately after the conclusion of the competition. Frustration from team leader Phil Mickelson was offered in the press conference following the European domination:
“Nobody here was in [on] any decision,” Mickelson said. “Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.”
From there, a report courtesy ESPN’s Bob Harig stated the American team meetings on Saturday evening went horribly, as Watson appeared annoyed, disingenuous and unimpressed by the efforts put forth by his players following a 10-6 deficit. Sources said the players presented Watson with a gift, but Watson’s reaction was smug and indifferent, as he reportedly said it meant nothing to him unless the team won.
Even before the Saturday meeting, it was evident the communication between Watson and his team was inconsistent at its best. He decisions were made with a dictatorship style mentality and inclusion of any player feelings were absent.
Fans watching from home could scratch their heads (similar to the way Phil Mickelson is above) following an array of Watson’s decisions. Simpson to tee off first on Friday? Reed and Spieth are going to sit after their domination? Phil and Keegan aren’t going to go on Saturday, at all–even with their stellar record?
The questions continued from there.
Watson’s captaincy was behind the eight-ball from the start. After reading Shane Ryan’s article chronicling Paul McGinley’s road to Gleneagles, Tom Watson’s shortcomings started before the players even pegged it up. In fact, early this week reports state Watson’s intention of selecting Bill Haas to the American Ryder Cup team before switching to Webb Simpson (after some solicitation from Simpson).
From all accounts, whether or not Watson’s job as captain could suffice and produce a victory is secondary to the fact that he was completely and utterly out-managed, out-coached and out-worked by McGinley and the European staff opposite him.
The criticism has reached the point to where this Ryder Cup catastrophe will leave a distinguished blemish on the legacy of the great Tom Watson.
It is true, great players are not always great coaches and being a great coach does not have a caveat of an illustrious playing career. Watson’s career as a player will be untouched by this debacle. But perhaps the same steely, unwavering, stubborn demeanor that ailed Ben Hogan may ail Tom Watson.
Sharps from around the game characterized Watson as a man whose experiences would reflect onto the American players–that unity under a man with his level of expertise would permeate beyond the limitations bound by age. But it appears as though the opposite was true. His age distanced him. His communication style alienated him. And his stoicism created barriers in the locker room.
Similar to an NBA locker room, one bad apple can ruin the entire chemistry of the unit. With such a small number of players, chemistry is paramount. The Ryder Cup has inevitably become an event dominated by chemistry–the Europeans have it and the Americans don’t. As Phil Mickelson alluded to above, there was a blueprint set for American success by Paul Azinger, but the lacking element has been continuity.
Azinger talked about the way of the modern-day Ryder Cup:
“There is a razor-thin line between winning and losing these matches,” Azinger said. “Europe has the intangible right now. They give themselves the extra 1% chance to win through its business model and cohesiveness.
“Even if you play blackjack perfectly in a casino, the casino still has a very slight edge against you. Right now Europe is the casino and the U.S. is the guy walking to the blackjack table with a fistful of $50s.”
Now Watson has not only been successful on the golf course, he’s been successful off it, in golf course design and other ventures. He is a busy man. His commitments are plentiful. With great power, comes great responsibility. Watson’s clout in golf may be ten times the size of Paul McGinley’s, and in the end it may have cost him.
McGinley was able to put significantly more energy and contemplation into each and every decision than Watson. There was a calculated process in place by the Europeans, a model set 10 years prior. McGinley’s presence on Ryder Cup coaching staffs trumps Watson’s significantly. And it showed.
At the end of the day, these are the best players in the world. They don’t need to be ‘managed’ and ‘told when to play and when to sit.’ They need to be motivated and worked with. Challenge them in unique ways by giving them ownership, the way Azinger did with his ‘pods.’ The entire team needs to work together toward a common goal and it is evident after the eighth American loss in ten attempts that Watson may have been in over his head.
So does Tom Watson regret his captaincy of the 2014 United States Ryder Cup team?
It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t. He will do his best to put it all behind him, but the effects from this one will linger for a while.