NEW YORK — Tom Watson has selected Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson for the U.S. Ryder Cup team with his three captain’s picks.
Bradley and Mahan were widely expected to make the team, but Webb Simpson was a minor surprise. Watson said he made the decision to select Simpson on Tuesday morning when he reviewed Simpson’s performance at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. The U.S. lost by a point after a dramatic final-day comeback by the Europeans, and Simpson compiled a 2-2 record with two 5-and-4 victories.
“Experience was big,” Watson said of the rationale behind his picks. “All three players have an even record or a winning record in the Ryder Cup.”
The three Americans join Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Jim Furyk and Jimmy Walker, who all automatically qualified for the 12-man team.
The U.S. team will be underdogs against Europe when the teams square off in Gleneagles, Scotland, on Sept. 26-28. Europe has won the last two Ryder Cups and has only lost once — in 2008 — since 1999.
However, Watson said that “flying under the radar” could be an advantage for the Americans in Scotland.
“I have a fundamental belief in our team and more importantly our players believe they can win the Ryder Cup,” Watson said.
The announcement was a disappointment to several American players in consideration for a captain’s pick, including Chris Kirk, Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas, Ryan Moore and others. Watson said he called more than a half-dozen players to tell them in person that they didn’t make the team, including Kirk, who won last week’s Deutsche Bank Championship.
Earlier this summer, Watson was asked repeatedly about the possibility of selecting a struggling Tiger Woods for the team with a captain’s pick, but Woods took himself out of consideration after the PGA Championship, saying he needed to rest his ailing back. Jason Dufner is also injured and was not in consideration for a pick, Watson said.
Watson said Tuesday that Woods didn’t call him to say he was out of consideration for a captain’s pick. Watson learned that when he called Woods, he said. Asked if he considered Woods for an assistant captain on the team, Watson responded with a dismissive “no.”
In a sign of how the Ryder Cup has grown from a charming international exhibition to a “Hunger Games”-style blood feud, Watson announced his captain’s picks Tuesday evening at Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center in New York, the home of “Saturday Night Live,” in front of dozens of reporters and TV cameras, as well as Donald and Melania Trump and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and the event was broadcast live on the Golf Channel.
Watson sat onstage next to PGA of America president Ted Bishop and announced the picks over the course of 40 minutes or so, with each player joining the media conference via video from Denver, where the PGA Tour stops this week for the BMW Championship.
In interviews with the three players and in Watson’s comments, the theme of redemption came up repeatedly.
“All the players had one thing to say,” Watson said of his talks with his team since he got the call to be Ryder Cup captain in November 2012. “They wanted to go back and they wanted to make amends for what happened at Medinah.”
That was certainly the case with Bradley, who hadn’t opened his laundry bag from Medinah since losing the 2012 Ryder Cup. He had openly campaigned for a Ryder Cup spot and visited the host course Gleneagles with Watson earlier this summer.
“The most important thing that he brings to this is his unbridled passion to play for the Ryder Cup team,” Watson said of Bradley. Watson also advised him to clean those clothes from two years ago.
Bradley, who finished T16 at the Deutsche Bank Championship, said he thought he had played his way off the team when he got the call from Watson on Monday.
“This is a redemption year for a lot of guys,” said Bradley, who added that he was going to “get a good night’s sleep for the first time in five months” after making the team.
Mahan, who won the Barclays tournament two weeks ago, made the team on the strength of his match-play performances, Watson said. In 2012, Mahan won the Accenture Match Play Championship over Rory McIroy and returned to the finals the following year before losing to Matt Kuchar.
“One of the things you look at is how you play match play — Hunter Mahan has really shined,” Watson said. “Match play is a little different than medal play, you play the course and you play the man.”
In terms of redemption, few American players have more to play for than Mahan, who lost the final match to Graeme McDowell as the U.S. lost the 2010 Ryder Cup to Europe by a point and then broke down in tears during a team press conference. He didn’t qualify for the 2012 U.S. team.
“Winning is great and it comes and goes, but losing lingers,” Mahan said. “It stays with you for some reason. It bites at you.
“It feels just like yesterday,” he said of the 2010 Ryder Cup. “I remember walking off the green and all the fans walking past Graeme and having a big party.”
Simpson had a similar memory that lingered after the 2012 Ryder Cup.
“I’ll never forget the feeling I had watching the other team celebrate,” Simpson said.
Watson, 64 was an unconventional pick for the captain’s role, which in recent Ryder Cups had been given to a player who had just recently ended his Tour career and had never been captain of a Ryder Cup team, like Davis Love III in 2012 and Corey Pavin in 2010. An eight-time major winner, Watson was captain of the winning U.S. side in 1993 at the Belfry in England, the last time the Americans won the Cup on foreign soil.
His enthusiasm for the event is obvious. He said he still remembers missing a five-foot putt at Royal Lytham in the 1977 Ryder Cup and hearing the fans cheer, the ultimate no-no in golf.
“That’s what the Ryder Cup really is,” Watson said. “No harm done.”
Before announcing his picks, Watson recalled getting a telephone message from the PGA of America in November 2012. He had an inkling that he might be asked to captain the team.
“I sure hope this is the call I’ve been waiting for for 20 years,” he said.