Tom Watson looking for players with ‘heart’ for his Ryder Cup line-up

American captain to delay picking his ‘wild cards’ until September 2nd

 Tiger Woods has been troubled by a back injury and his loss of form is a concern for USA Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson. Photo:  Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tiger Woods has been troubled by a back injury and his loss of form is a concern for USA Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images


On the range. In a radio booth. Out on the course. Tom Watson was a ubiquitous presence at Valhalla Golf Club throughout the USPGA Championship. For good reason too, as the legendary player – in his second stint as a Ryder Cup captain – ran his eye over prospective team members for next month’s match.

What team Watson ultimately brings to Scotland in a bid to reclaim the famed trophy is, to be honest, anyone’s guess.

Although the nine automatic places were finalised with the USPGA, Watson has delayed the selection of his three captain’s “wild card” picks until September 2nd. It is the same day as his European counterpart Paul McGinley announces his own three picks, but the mood in the respective camps could hardly be more different.

In this 2014 edition of the Ryder Cup, the Americans – riddled with injuries of one kind or another, beset by indifferent form and with one player, Dustin Johnson, on the missing list after taking a so-called “leave of absence” for an indefinite period – will travel to Gleneagles as undisputed underdogs.

It’s a rare position for an American team.

On Friday, Watson made his “falling like flies” comment with regard to the number of players – prospective Ryder Cuppers – who were on the injured list. Matt Kuchar, assured of his place, didn’t play in the PGA due to a bad back. Jason Dufner has been plagued by a neck injury and he withdrew on Friday. Tiger Woods’s injuries are well documented but his lack of form, as much as his damaged body, is weighing heavily on Watson’s mind.

Who Watson picks remains up in the air, quite simply because very few of his players have shown any real form.

Jimmy Walker, a certainty to make his debut, has won three times on tour this season but the last of those came in the Pebble Beach pro-am back in February. Up to the PGA, the last American likely to feature at Gleneagles to win a tournament was Patrick Reed who won the WGC-Cadillac in March.

Since then, Reed has been a pale imitation of a player who, at that time, should supreme confidence in espousing the view that he was a “top five” player in the world.

Watson may have to deal with Reed’s cockiness in the team locker-room, but who he decides to add to the automatic nine – which will definitely include Bubba Watson, another player with plenty of attitude – will be his choice and his alone.

The heart

As he contemplated the question of which players were on his mind, Watson put his hand on his heart to give greater emphasis to his own words. “Who has got the heart? Who has got the guts to make that five-footer when the chips are down, to be able to grind it out and get that one point? That’s what I am looking for,” said Watson.

In the old days, Watson would be naming his wild card picks today, after the qualification process had come to a natural end. Not this time. Watson has delayed naming his choices until September 2nd after two of the FedEx Cup playoffs have taken place. The time lag is to allow fringe players to show form. Unfortunately for Watson, that won’t include Woods who has failed to make the playoffs. A phone call to check on his health and his golfing well being will have to suffice.

The loss

Ironically, in cataloguing the type of spirit he wants to instil in his team as they go about avenging the loss at Medinah in 2012, Watson looked to one of Europe’s iconic Ryder Cup players – Seve Ballesteros – as an example to be followed.

“The main thing is you do anything possible to win . . . (if) you are not hitting it very well, you find a way. My caddie Bruce Edwards always said to me when I was playing lousy, ‘Come on, find a way. Find a way’. When I hit the ball in the crap, he said, ‘Give us a swing, just give us a swing’. Kind of like Seve, he was never out of it. Players like that, in the Ryder Cup.

“In my observation of the Ryder Cup over the years, watching it, I’ve seen so many great shots, more great shots, hole outs, than you see in normal tournaments. You really do. And whether that’s a factor of match play or it’s all or nothing that you’ve got to hole it out or versus mental play where every shot counts, it may be a little bit of that. It also could be the fact that these guys are playing under more pressure, which then elicits better performance.”

In short, Watson will be looking for players with heart when it comes to naming names on September 2nd. And hoping they stay fit and well.

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