Captain Tom?

By Ron Sirak Photos by Getty Images
December 09, 2012

Watson captained the U.S. to victory at the 1993 Ryder Cup.

__By Ron Sirak


My first Ryder Cup was Tom Watson's last one. Now the eight-time major championship winner and I may be headed toward a Ryder reunion. Watson, who captained the United States to victory at The Belfry in 1993, says he'd like to lead the team again.

And Watson, who will be 65 when the next Ryder Cup is played at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014, may just bring the kind of fire to the competition that will return the Yanks to winning ways. A Watson captaincy certainly wouldn't hurt.

Famously, in 1993, Watson created a bit of an international incident by refusing a request from Sam Torrance to sign his dinner menu, saying he did not want his team disturbed by such frivolity. You can imagine how the understated British press handled that!

Anyway, while in Sydney for the Australian Open, Watson said if asked, he'd serve as the U.S. captain once again.

"It would be a great honor if I got tapped on the shoulder," Watson said. "'93 was the last time I've been to a Ryder Cup. I'd like to go back as captain. That would be cool."

The fact that Watson hasn't been to a Ryder Cup since 1993 came as a bit of a surprise to this veteran observer. You'd have thought he'd have at least popped up at one for a corporate boondoggle, if nothing else.

But the truth of the matter is that the American team has barely shown up since Watson led the Yanks to a 15-13 victory in 1993. Of the nine Ryder Cups since then, Europe has won seven by an aggregate score of 135.5 to 116.5.

And the last time the United States won consecutive Ryder Cups was 1991-93. Watson, who had a 10-4-1 record in four Ryder Cups as a player, apologized for the autography incident, but it did set the tone for a victorious week.

"It was an unfortunate incident," Watson said at the time, according to the story I wrote for The Associated Press. And European captain Bernard Gallacher accepted Watson's apology.

"I did really well last night, didn't I?" Watson told me and the rest of the press corps the next day. "I do apologize for any bad feelings that may have come from this."

Still, Watson tried to use math to justify his order to his players that they not sign autographs at the dinner.

"I can sign about 322 autographs an hour," Watson said, making you wonder how the heck he ever figured out that. The image of Watson sitting there with a stopwatch timing his autographs is amusing, if not bizarre.

"There were 800 people there last night," Watson said about the gala dinner. "If we had started signing autographs it would have spoiled the evening for my players."

For the record, Team Europe did sign autographs that night. Asked how he calmed down the irate Torrance, Gallacher said: "I gave him one because I know Tom's signature, so he's quite happy."

And then, in what was the best line of the entire incident, when Gallacher was asked if Autograph-gate spoiled the evening for his team, he replied: "Well, Seve struggled with his frommage at the end."

OK, so let's get back to the point here. Why not reach back into the past and pick a veteran player and successful captain to be captain once again? So what if 21 years have lapsed between his stints at the helm?

The PGA of America likes to get these things done sooner rather than later, the better to get the marketing machine into high gear. The selection of the next U.S. captain should come by the end of the year and may be announced as early as next week.

The pattern in recent years has been to tab a sort of still active player, as was the case with Davis Love III, who has the distinction of being the captain against whom the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history was staged.

Why not go back to the future in selecting the next American captain? And speaking of the past, let's take one more look at that autograph incident. For those who believe in karma, this is of the 14-karat variety.

I have always felt that one of the reasons Europe has been so successful in the Ryder Cup is that they do a better job of embracing the intensity of Ryder Cup week. They sign autographs. They sing and dance and chant and have a ball.

And while the Euros treat the Ryder Cup like a weeklong fraternity party, the American act as if it is seven days of root canal surgery. The contrast between Watson and Gallacher at The Belfry pretty much summarizes the different tones for the teams during the 20 years of domination by Europe.

Do I think the PGA of America will reach out to Watson and make him captain of the 2014 team? I do not. Too outside-the-box for them. Do I think they should? Yes, I do.

After all, what is there to lose? Just another Ryder Cup, and the U.S. already has that mastered. And the first thing Watson should do if he is named captain? Autographs for everyone! Let's see if he can break that 322-per-hour mark.