PGA Tour Confidential: Is Watson right choice for U.S. Ryder Cup captain?

December 14, 2012

The editorial staff of the SI Golf Group convened a special edition of its weekly e-mail roundtable to discuss Tom Watson's selection as the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, During Tom Watson's press conference Thursday morning, he cited his experience dealing with the U.K. time change as a way he can help the young fellas on the squad. Um, Tom, these guys are jet-setting to Asia and the Middle East and Australia and South Africa all the time. Is this the first sign that we might have a captain who's a bit out of touch with his players?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I can't wait to hear his advice on how to adapt to the smaller British ball.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He mentioned going over three days early and not playing any golf to get acclimated to the time change. I want to see what kind of reaction he's going to get when he announces they're going to jet over to Scotland a week or more before the matches start.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, I don't think a Ryder Cup captain needs a Twitter account or an iPod stuffed with Kanye songs to relate to his team. The U.S. will be motivated to win. Like Watson said today, all a captain can do is set the stage and give his players a chance to perform their best. I think he'll be able to do that.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Exactly. Watson will be plenty in touch with what the team needs. In fact, I think it's good to have an older, more authoritative leader who commands respect instead of being best buddies.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: If the U.S. team needs a strong leader, it has one in Watson. Old, stern and decisive might be better than a 40-something who's too chummy with Phil to tell him he's going back out for the afternoon match.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Watson had a good press conference overall, but the time zone thing? Duh. Also, he hinted that four captain's picks might be too many. Totally disagree. Would be a mistake to cut back.

Godich: Exactly. Even if he believes otherwise, he should stick with the format, then just take the ninth and 10th players on the points list as wild-card picks. The fact that he came to Hunter Mahan's defense is a bit concerning, when you consider Mahan had trouble even making a cut in the second half of 2012.

Van Sickle: Azinger created the blueprint for U.S. success in the 2008 Ryder Cup. The picks, the later deadline, the pods. Other captains should follow his lead.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: No, Gary, Watson created the blueprint for U.S. success when he won in '93. It was: "Don't sign the Euros' menus."

Shipnuck: Which brings us to the greatest headline in golf history: "FORK OFF!"

Van Sickle: You know what Watson's so-called blueprint included in '93? Paul Azinger, the best American player. The U.S. has won four times since 1991, and Azinger played on two of those teams and captained a third. There's your blueprint.

David Dusek, deputy editor, I'm sure Watson knows how the players will want to be treated, which buttons to push, and, just as importantly, which buttons NOT to push.

Van Sickle: One other thing about Watson: He's as competitive as any player who ever lived. Sure, he'll enjoy the Ryder Cup experience and the week and all that. But he's there to win for the U.S., make no mistake about it. The Ping-Pong matches are not going to be the highlight of the week.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I think he's kind of a cool choice. He'll be hard for the locals to hate, and for that reason alone it's an inspired pick.

Garrity: The Scots love Watson as the great Open champion, but they're not as fond of him in the Ryder Cup context. Sam Torrance has never forgiven Tom for telling the U.S. players not to sign autographs for the Euros at the gala, as was the tradition.

Wei: Good point, John, but I feel like their reverence of him as a player outweighs that incident back in the stone ages.

Van Sickle: Goodwill only goes so far, like until the first American tees off Friday morning. Then it's on and it doesn't matter if Watson is Mother Teresa or Attila the Hun. The Scots and all the Euros will want to see him and the U.S. go down. It's why the Cup is so fun. There's passion on both sides. And Watson has plenty of it.

Herre: Agree that the Scots love Watson, but I'm more concerned about how the U.S. players feel about him. No matter what Woods and Watson say, they are not close and never will be. I keep thinking back to 2004 and Hal Sutton and his assistant, Jackie Burke Jr., and what a disaster that was. There was a lot of "time to stop losing" and "just play better" talk back then, too.

Shipnuck: Exactly, Jim. The old-school hard-ass act doesn't work with these players, as Sutton/Burke proved. Then again, what does work? All sorts of different personalities have failed as U.S. Ryder Cup captain. Let's not forget that the Ryder Cup is showbiz, and Watson gives us tons to have fun with over the next two years, whereas the vanilla Toms was going to be death to sportswriters. So if the PGA wanted to create buzz, this pick is already a home run.

Hanger: I've loved watching Watson play the game over the years, but he's proven himself to be rigid to a fault off the course. He wrote the letter to Augusta National that led to Gary McCord's expulsion from the Masters broadcasts, and he's done a lot of finger-wagging at Tiger Woods. How will Watson's personality and perspective impact his captaincy? Is he old school in a good way or in a bad way?

Shipnuck: Azinger is just as polarizing a personality as Watson, maybe more so, and he was a fabulous captain. I think Watson's comments through the years have rubbed a lot of fans and reporters the wrong way, but he is aligned culturally and politically with many if not most of the players on Tour, so his country club conservatism isn't that big of a deal when it comes to his captaincy.

Van Sickle: I'd disagree that Azinger is polarizing, Alan. He's always been very popular among his fellow players. He's like Couples, an overgrown high-school kid that everybody wants to hang with. Yes, his Twitter political action is polarizing to some, but he's one of the guys in the players' locker room.

Wei: I think the U.S. players hold Watson in high regard, and they could use some tough love from their captain. Plus, if the captain and team can't forget about their personal differences for a week, then they have much bigger problems to deal with.

Godich: This move reeks of desperation. Watson is a great ambassador and will be welcomed by the Scottish crowds, but that doesn't mean they'll tone down their act in the heat of the matches. And what happens if Watson doesn't get it done? Then what? And if he wins, doesn't he deserve to be captain until he doesn't want it anymore?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Do you think Watson will be an effective captain? Did the PGA of America make the right choice in selecting him?