America turns its lonely eyes to Watson in his land of Open glory
Fanciful as the notion is, Tom Watson’s status on these shores is such that the American would even be welcomed had he been appointed captain of Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
The USA clearly hope to capitalise on the adulation routinely afforded the 63-year-old, particularly in Scotland, when they resume hostilities with the European team at Gleneagles in 2014. That is, if yesterday’s appointment of Watson as the successor to Davis Love III has not removed the prospect of any hostility in one fell swoop.
For Watson this seems a fitting end to a remarkable career. It would be utter folly to bank on it being unsuccessful.
Watson is so closely linked to the Scottish golfing scene that many in the small nation would consider him one of their own.
The feeling is mutual; Watson adores Scotland. During a famous career Watson claimed four of his five British Open titles in the country.
In 2009 he came within an Open play-off of writing one of the most epic chapters in sporting history. Once again the drama took place on Scottish soil.
Watson’s own country has called on him to defy age one more time, in turning round a pretty dismal Ryder Cup run.
Europe are already odds-on favourites to retain the trophy in Perthshire, where the USA may well endure slow greens and gloomy conditions. The announcement should neutralise at least some of that premature expectation; and hint at a potentially welcoming environment for the USA team.
On face value there is sound logic behind the Watson choice. As well as having an intimate knowledge of the surroundings and the Ryder Cup itself, he is a fierce competitor who will command the instant respect of his team.
Watson captained the USA to a Ryder Cup win at The Belfry in 1993, their last win overseas.
David Toms had been the earlier favourite to take over for Gleneagles but the PGA of America settled on an alternative plan to the one which has seen them pick active players around the age of 50. Generally that policy has floundered, largely because the Ryder Cup captain is too close to the players. In Love’s case it actually appeared as though his team dictated far too many decisions as they collapsed towards defeat in Medinah.
From left-field, then, Watson becomes a rare two-time Ryder Cup leader.
There are at least two intriguing subplots. Watson was notably critical of Tiger Woods, who should form a crucial part of the visiting contingent at Gleneagles, after the chaos which engulfed the former world number one’s private life. Woods is not known for having a short memory.
Yet that must be taken in context. Watson is no stranger to personal turmoil, having encountered divorce, or the vice which eventually saw him give up alcohol. “I quit because I didn’t like myself when I drank. I did stupid things,” he later explained.
Watson’s appointment also raises the question of what impact and influence, if any, will be felt on Europe’s captaincy choice. In what seems a straight race between Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley there may now be a strong case for Clarke being handed the role because his higher profile will go at least some way to neutralising the Watson effect.
McGinley’s hope rests on the Europeans opting not even to attempt to match Watson’s popularity with the galleries.
“Come on guys, nobody has died,” said Watson with a smile as the disappointed media prepared to speak to him after Stewart Cink had claimed that memorable Open title in a play-off at Turnberry three years ago. The USA have not, however, picked Watson to be so gracious in defeat this time.