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Elder Statesman

By Ron Sirak Photos by Getty Images
December 12, 2012

Watson was officially announced the next U.S. captain Thursday on the "Today" show.

The last time Tom Watson was captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team was the last time the Yanks traveled across the Atlantic and actually came home with the Cup. That was 1993 and the Americans won 15-13 at the Belfry.

Seems a lot longer ago than that, doesn't it? Losing has a way of making time pass slowly. Tiger Woods was still in high school and Rory McIroy was four years old when the Yanks won its last Ryder Cup road game.

More importantly, when the U.S. won in England in 1993, it appeared as if the competitive pendulum of the Cup had swung back toward this side of the pond and away from Europe.

The Euros ended what was nearly an O-for-the-20th-century drought with victories in 1985 and '87, then retained the Cup with a tie in 1989. But the Americans set things right by winning the "War by the Shore" at Kiawah in 1991 followed by the triumph at the Belfry.

But not so fast, Sparky. Since that victory in 1993, the United States has won only twice, both on home soil -- in 1999 at Brookline and in 2008 at Valhalla. During that stretch since Watson won as captain, Europe has packed the Cup up and taken it home seven times, including five of the last six. Suddenly, the Yanks have become for Team Europe what the Washington Generals were for the Harlem Globetrotters -- friendly foils good for a laugh and a loss.

"I think it's important for the people to understand that the PGA of America has an obligation to try to pick and find the captain that we feel is going to put our team in the best position to win," PGA of America president Ted Bishop said Thursday in making the announcement.

"And quite frankly, I know I speak for a lot of people when I say, we are just really tired of losing The Ryder Cup," Bishop said.

, which shockingly is on NBC, the network that broadcasts the Ryder Cup. Funny how that works.

And Watson was introduced to the media at the Empire State Building, which hadn't hosted someone facing such a monumental task since King Kong climbed it with Fay Wray in his hand.

So is picking a guy who will be 65 years old when the competition is held at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014 going to help? Well, it couldn't hurt.

What Watson knows about golf, and winning, he hasn't forgotten. What he doesn't know about the current players, he can learn. He's a smart guy.

Give the PGA of America -- and Bishop -- credit for this: They are trying something different. Clearly, picking a player to be captain who was looking for something to do while biding time between the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour was not working.

Look for Watson to be loaded with bold innovations and a dynamic managing style. Look for a radical new approach to how the U.S. side treats the Ryder Cup.

"Well, I really haven't thought much about changing the approach," Watson said when asked what he would do differently. "I'm going to probably do the same things, try to make it easy for the players. The PGA of America does that." OK, let's hold that innovation thought for now.

One thing we do know is that Watson will spend the next 20 months until the Ryder Cup being asked how things are going with Tiger Woods, whom Watson tweaked a bit post scandal by saying he needed to show more respect for the game.

"Well, I hope Tiger, first of all, is on my team," Watson said Thursday. "My relationship with Tiger is fine," Watson said, adding that if Woods did not qualify for the squad in 2014 "you can bet that he's going to be No. 1 on my pick list." Might not be a good idea to make that commitment this early.

The last time Watson was the Ryder Cup captain he created a bit of a stir by not allowing his players to sign autographs at the pre-event gala dinner, even blowing off members of the European team. Watson later apologized, but it does show the competitive fire he will bring to the U.S. team room.

"The most important thing is that we are going to pull out all the stops to beat you guys," Watson said to a member of the European media. "The bottom line is to win. That's the most important thing. I will do it in style and the grace in which we play the game."

Watson is adored in Scotland, in part because he's won the British Open five times and in part because of the classy and competitive way he handles both winning and losing. His fire will be appreciated by fans of the other side, and that might help the Americans.

"We're tired of losing," Watson said, in what amounted to his closing arguments for his selection. "I always said that early in my career, I learned to win by hating to lose. It's about time to start winning again for our team. That's the attitude that I hope that my players have, and it's time to stop losing."

That's pretty much what the PGA of America had in mind when they decided on Watson as Ryder Cup captain.

Watson doesn't need to do anything new to change the fortunes of Team USA, he needs to do something old -- bring back the expectation that the Americans should win. They've seemed to be shackled by fear in recent years.

I can't think of anyone who can bring back that winning attitude better than Tom Watson. Now, how about making Jack Nicklaus an assistant captain? Talk about bringing a winning attitude into the team room.