Tom Watson was named as the United States captain for the next Ryder Cup match against Europe at Gleneagles in 2014 and then made it one of his first jobs to offer an olive branch to Tiger Woods.
Watson, widely touted to return to a role he last held at the Belfry in 1993, was confirmed as captain on a television channel in New York before moving on to a press conference at the iconic Empire State Building, during which he revealed that the PGA of America first approached him about a year ago.
Widely respected within the game, Watson nonetheless has a frosty relationship with Woods, one borne out of his stinging criticism of the former world No. 1 three years ago, at a time when the player’s game and his private life were unravelling.
“He has not carried the same stature of other great players that have come along like Jack (Nicklaus), Arnold (Palmer), Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan,” Watson said at the time, referring explicitly to Woods’ bad language and club throwing. “I think he needs to clean up his act and show respect for the game.”
Woods never forgets — and rarely forgives — such slights and yet Watson said on Thursday that he expected no problems in the team room in two years’ time.
“First of all, I hope Tiger is on my team,” he said. “He’s maybe the best player in the history of the game (and), if he’s not on the team, he would be my No. 1 pick. My relationship with Tiger is fine. Everything that has been said before is water under the bridge.”
Bernard Gallacher, Watson’s opposite number in 1993, believes all will be fine. “Tom is a very straight talker,” he said. “When he criticised Tiger for his behaviour on the golf course, spitting and swearing, he said what a lot of us felt. Looking back I think Tiger probably respected Tom for that. I think he is the perfect captain to get the best out of him. Tom certainly won't be intimidated by him.”
Until last weekend, when Watson first hinted that he would relish the role — he led the US to a 15-13 victory at the Belfry, their last win overseas — it had been assumed that David Toms, who was the USPGA champion in 2001, or Larry Nelson, would be given the nod.
But with only two wins in nine matches, the Americans have gone in search of something different. Watson will be 65 when he leads out the team and will become the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history, ahead of John Henry Taylor, who was 62 when he led Great Britain in 1933.
“It’s an honour to be asked to be captain again,” Watson said. “It’s been 19 years and, when they called me to start the process, I said, ‘Boy I’ve been waiting for this call for a long time.’” Eyebrows have been raised in some quarters considering that Watson has played sparingly on the PGA Tour in recent years and is unlikely to know many of the players very well.
But as a winner of eight major championships, his reputation goes before him. He is no soft touch. “It’s a challenge, but I’ve been there before and I welcome it,” he said. “The idea of being a captain to a team of youngsters will be questioned — ‘Why Watson? He’s an old guy’ — but I deflect that by saying simply, ‘We play the same game’.