Tour Confidential: Did Tom Watson Owe the U.S. Ryder Cup Team an Apology?

Tour Confidential: Did Tom Watson Owe the U.S. Ryder Cup Team an Apology?

Tom Watson watches four-ball matches on Friday at the 2014 Ryder Cup.
Robert Beck/SI

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. What did you make of Tom Watson’s “apology” related to his words and actions during and after the Ryder Cup? Was it necessary?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The apology probably should have been stronger and, better still, probably should’ve been delivered by phone to each player by Watson. If reports of team-room episode are correct, yes, Watson did owe an apology.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I believe I saw a picture of Tom holding his nose with one hand while dictating it to a young staffer at the PGA of America.

Eamon Lynch, executive editor, (@EamonLynch): The apology followed yet more reports of how dysfunctional the USA’s team room was, so it seems calculated to cork the leaking of unfavorable stories. If you’re Tom Watson, that probably qualifies as necessary right now. But if we’re in the business of apologies, why stop with Watson? He’s hardly the only person who bears responsibility for the farce at Gleneagles.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): The open letter was too polished and too late to change the post-Ryder narrative, so not sure it was necessary. When I met with Watson last spring for a Golf Magazine interview, I left with no doubt that he desperately wanted to win back the Cup. He did the best he could, and clearly, that meant doing it his way. He doesn’t owe the press or the fans an apology — but if he has remorse, he’d be better served to just have those talks with the affected players.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): I don’t think it was necessary — more like putting a Band-Aid on a chainsaw mishap — but it was definitely appreciated. The Ryder Cup means a lot in terms of ratings, endorsements, national pride and moving the golf needle. Once in great while, though, we ought to step back and remind ourselves that this is still an exhibition. Watson had no right, if the inner sanctum reports are accurate, to berate players over their results and to reject the gift they gave him. His “open letter” at least acknowledged that he may have made some mistakes.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): I suspect that what we are reading isn’t so much Watson’s own regret but the polished “remorse” of a PR man serving as Watson’s Cyrano. Necessary? No. Here’s what I don’t get. We grouse and grumble about passionless U.S. players. Then Watson, the highly competitive leader of a team of professional athletes, does a ham-fisted Vince Lombardi impression that hurts a few feelings, and now we have to hug it out? Next time, we give each American player a box of Kleenex to go along with those granny sweaters they wore.

2. Does Watson’s Ryder Cup captaincy at all diminish his career legacy, which had mostly seemed rock-solid with the public?

BAMBERGER: I think his captaincy enriched his legacy. If you want to win, man-up, want it more, play better. He may not be the warmest of people but he stands for something.

SENS: Does Michael Jordan’s ownership of a flailing NBA franchise diminish what he did on the court? Of course not. Same with Watson’s captaincy. Two entirely separate spheres. The only thing it diminishes is the likelihood that he’ll be back for a third run at the role. And isn’t that a relief?

PASSOV: In time, folks will forgive and forget. After all, he was a winning captain once and had a stellar record as a player that has continued well into senior citizen status. I still can’t think of a more heartbreaking loss as a sports fan than his Turnberry British Open result in 2009, and this current episode hasn’t changed my thinking. By the way, this captain/veteran superstar Ryder Cup imbroglio isn’t new. In 1967, captain Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer had serious issues with each other. Hogan never called the King by his first name, and implied that it was his decision — period — as to if and when Palmer would play. Captain Sam Snead was actually furious at Jack Nicklaus for conceding Tony Jacklin’s putt in 1969. And those were in matches where the U.S. retained the Cup.

LYNCH:  The Ryder Cup captaincy only really impacts careers that otherwise suffer from a lack of major trophies (see: Montgomerie, Colin). How many times do you hear Ben Hogan’s three stints as captain mentioned among his accomplishments? Captains who achieve greatness as individuals find the week reduced to a footnote. Watson’s legacy in the game is secure. Years from now he won’t be remembered as a lousy captain. But he was.

RITTER: If Watson’s playing career was over and the captaincy was his final big moment in a competition, it would hurt much worse. But next summer he’ll take a victory lap around St. Andrews in his final British Open — the perfect opportunity to further repair any lingering damage and go out on a high note. Watson will be just fine.

VAN SICKLE: Not really but when something like this goes public, it’s an embarrassment for everyone involved, including Watson. His playing record will outlive any perceived character traits, real or imagined, from the Ryder Cup.

3. Do Phil Mickelson’s post-match comments come off better in light of subsequent reports of widespread dissention between U.S. Ryder Cup players and Watson? Is Mickelson still a certain pick for a future Ryder Cup captain?

VAN SICKLE: Phil’s comments were still a calculated blow-up of the team and especially the captain but in light of the reports, Mickelson’s actions are now at least understandable. Justifiable? I’m not so sure but understandable, yes. Still up in the air whether the PGA of America will look on Phil as a concerned Ryder Cupper or a team cancer.

SENS: Aside from the passive-aggressive delivery, I didn’t have any problem with Mickelson’s comments in the first place. Wrong or right, he’s entitled to his opinions and has a right to voice them. I don’t mind that he expressed them in public. Who needs more phony politeness? Don’t we have enough of that already?

BAMBERGER: Mickelson’s comments were brilliant. Every word was well-planned. He did exactly what he wanted to do: he embarrassed Watson. He looks even better now, because he was public. Everybody else is anonymous.

PASSOV: The Phil-haters out there — and there are plenty of them — aren’t likely to change their minds about Phil. Okay, so he’s self-interested and has an agenda. Is that unique? What I know is that Mickelson has been a mentor to many and a motivator on numerous occasions. He’s served his country on Ryder Cup teams since 1995 and Presidents Cups since 1996. He’s earned the right to be captain one day. And in light of the subsequent reports of widespread dissension, even the most ardent Mickelson bashers should lighten up. He was honest, and somewhat humiliated, and he’s earned the right as an elder statesman to vent where appropriate. This was one of those times.

LYNCH: One can assume that all 12 players on the American team had legitimate gripes about Watson’s captaincy. Mickelson alone chose to air those issues publicly immediately after the team lost, which was entirely the wrong setting. It was unprofessional, but it won’t impact his future captaincy.

RITTER:  Yes, because the new info reveals that Mickelson may have been defending his team instead of merely grinding a personal ax. Regardless of what we learn about the U.S. team room that week — and over time I’m sure we’ll continue to learn more — it would be shocking if Phil never captains a team of his own. He’s more than earned it.

4. Rory McIlroy won the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award in a presumable landslide, although the Tour does not release voting totals. Who is your first runner-up for PGA Tour Player of the Year and why?

SENS: Fowler in a runaway. Top five finishes in all the majors, capped by mostly superb play in the Ryder Cup. He just had the misfortune, during the season, and at Gleneagles, of running up against a guy who’s playing better golf than anyone since Tiger in 2000.

PASSOV: What the heck do we reward here in the Runner-Up Bowl? Wrap-around success, like Jimmy Walker? Top 10s and great close calls in majors (but no wins), like Rickie Fowler? Killer finishes like FedEx Cup champ Billy Horschel? I’m going with Martin Kaymer. He dominated the U.S. Open and squeezed out a Players win. That’s enough to grab the No. 2 slot.

RITTER: I’d probably give it to Kaymer, who gets bonus points for the most dominant major performance of the year in addition to the Players title, by a nose over Bubba.

LYNCH: Martin Kaymer. Winning The Players and the U.S. Open tops the accomplishments of any other player whose name doesn’t rhyme with glory.

VAN SICKLE: Martin Kaymer won a U.S. Open in a romp plus the Players. That’s good enough for second.

BAMBERGER: Hmmmmm. Very difficult question. Rickie? No. Furyk? No. Bub? No. Jimmy Walker? No. Patrick Reed? No. Do we have to have a runner-up?

5. The Open, along with the new PGA Tour season, starts this week. Are you ready for some golf? What’s your take on the second year of the split-season schedule?

BAMBERGER: I despise the new season beginning in October. To everything there is a season and nothing about October says, WELCOME TO THE NEW GOLF SEASON. Also, the Tour had a perfect point system: money earned. It botched that, hand-in-hand with the other move. Onward and upward is a great, but there’s a time to sit pat, too.

LYNCH: I suspect our interest level is higher than that of the Tour’s biggest names, most of whom we won’t see until next spring.

RITTER: The wrap-around season served its purpose — event sponsorship money — but my enthusiasm for the slate remains lukewarm as long as the fields lack stars.

PASSOV: I’m ready for more football and for the baseball playoffs. I’m not ready for more professional golf. I want a break. I would think the top PGA Tour players would, too. If they want to go to Asia, at least they’re getting appearance money for their trouble. They don’t have to play well there. The players I really want to watch have earned the right to shut it down at this point. Instead, they start well back in the FedEx Cup race. Come March, when things ought to be heating up, we’re looking at list of leaders with names that I couldn’t tell if they were PGA Tour or Tour members. Give me back my Silly Season and let’s crank it up again in January.

SENS: Sure, I’m ready. You can’t go cold turkey on an addiction. You need to taper. That’s what the split-season does for fans. For players and the Tour, it’s strictly about money, which is something I try not to think about when I’m watching. Kills the buzz.

VAN SICKLE: This is exactly when you’d like to at least have a breather week. What, another season already? We haven’t even gotten to the World Series yet.

6. Caddie Steve Williams said this week that he’d consider reuniting with his old boss Tiger Woods. Should Tiger think about bringing Williams back, and would it make any difference?

LYNCH: Tiger has often shown poor judgment, but resurrecting this loud-mouthed luggage handler is beyond even him. This is one band that won’t be getting back together. 

BAMBERGER: That’s very thoughtful gesture on Steve’s part. I do see some obstacles. One: Woods has a caddie. Two: Woods doesn’t like Steve. Three: Steve doesn’t like Woods. Four: We all know there was only one thing holding Woods back in 2014, and that was his glutes. They weren’t strong enough. But now it is a new season, and Woods with his new and improved glutes, and Joe will be with him, walking straight down the middle of the fairway. I like how Joe leaves his bib on when Woods is winning. Man knows who butters his bread.

PASSOV: Tiger needs a driver fix, not a caddie fix. Let Mr. Woods continue to heal and get back to full work on the course and on the range, with or without a swing guru. A caddie controversy is the last thing he needs.

VAN SICKLE: Tiger has never been a forgive-and-forget guy. He’s fine with Joe LaCava on the bag. Tiger isn’t getting back together with Stevie or Butch or Fluff or anyone else who’s been cast out of his inner circle. All exits are permanent.

RITTER: As a member of the media, I want Tiger to re-hire Stevie just for the story. But I can’t see this happening, because from what we gather, Tiger is one to hold a grudge. There’s no return trip once you leave the inner circle. For the second question, Tiger needs a sustained run of good health and a driver swing overhaul much more than a caddie switch.

SENS: And in a related story, Pete Best said that he’d be willing to re-enlist as the Beatles’ drummer.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.

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