As he waited to board a 1927 locomotive at Waverley Station yesterday, for a nostalgic rattle along to Gleneagles as part of the Ryder Cup's 'Year to Go' celebrations, you half expected this golfing golden oldie to hop on to the footplate and start shovelling coal into the fire box. When the guard's whistle sounded, it signalled the start of a journey down memory lane.
"When I was young, every kid had a Lionel train set, that was the name of the brand," reflected the 64-year-old as his mind drifted back to those carefree days of skint knees and O Gauges. "We used to have a Lionel train store and my mother would take us there to buy another car for my set. That was a big treat, a real thrill. We had a train set that my uncle set up on a four-by-eight piece of plywood. And, if the train didn't go, you used steel wool on the tracks. If the tracks got tarnished or rusty, you had to get down and clean them up. So being on this train makes me feel like a kid, definitely. It reminds me of my first train ride, back in 1954. It was summer and I went to Chicago with my grandmother and great aunt. It's a real thrill being on a steam train again."
Things have changed a bit since Watson first went hurtling along the tracks, of course. These days, it's all thumb-tapping technology but Watson is slowly getting to grips with the whiz-bang machinery. The Ryder Cup captaincy in the modern era demands it and it's a fair old difference from the last time he slipped on the skipper's armband in 1993. "The social media, the Twitter and the Facebook, that is all part of the job now," added Watson as he mulled over the hectic online life of status updates and hash-tags. "And that's difficult. The captaincy has changed in that I'm doing a lot more in the way of peripheral activities. We certainly didn't have a Year to Go event the last time I was captain."
One thing that hasn't changed is the competitive intensity of the matches themselves. It may be 12 months away but the build up is already gathering pace. This time next year, tranquil and genteel Gleneagles will be transformed into a roaring bear pit. Shell-shocked by Europe's Miracle of Medinah last autumn, the US is a big, limping animal and Watson knows the only way to soothe the deep wounds is to win on Scottish soil. "I know that the players don't need any motivation," he said. "Several of them will be motivated by having been on the 2012 team. They played and lost. That's enough motivation. But, as I said in 1993, my job is to keep the pressure down as much as I can. I'll do that through humour and keeping their minds off what they're trying to do in the off time."
He could always dig out his old train set. Then again, team harmony would probably be disrupted when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson end up huffily bickering over who gets to play the role of Casey Jones. Watson will want to keep everything, and everybody, safely on track. His opposite number, Paul McGinley, meanwhile, will be trying his best to derail the Americans. "I've never been on a steam train before," he said as he settled in for the trip. The Dubliner has barely stopped smiling since he was given the European post and his grin got wider at the weekend when the rejuvenated Swede, Henrik Stenson, won the Tour Championship, the cash-laden conclusion to the PGA circuit's lucrative FedEx Cup series.
Since finishing third in July's Scottish Open, Stenson has squirreled away more than $15m in the weeks that have followed. It's been a remarkable renaissance and McGinley couldn't be happier. "Henrik is probably 85% on the team now," admitted McGinley, who enjoyed a four-hole hit about with his American counterpart over the PGA Centenary course upon their arrival at the Perthshire resort. "He's a guy ready to come back to Ryder Cup level and a guy I certainly believe can add to our team, there's no doubt about that. He's a very strong player, a very strong competitor and a very good guy in the team room. I'm a great believer in peer pressure; that if one of your peers perfoms well, then other guys perform too. We've had Justin [Rose] winning the US Open this year, we've now had Henrik winning the FedEx, and both on American soil. I've no doubt there'll be a number of other European players based in America who will step up to the plate too."
McGinley and Watson were the first-class passengers on a series of carriages jam-packed with a giddy mix of officials, politicians, salivating media, grinning celebrities and more hangers-on than a rock pool of barnacles.
The Ryder Cup sure is an astonishing gravy train nowadays.