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Ryder Cup captaincy gives Watson chance of more glory on Scottish soil

In the build-up to the eagerly anticipated announcement of Team USA's next captain for the 2014 Ryder Cup, Ted Bishop, the president of the PGA of America, had promised "something a little different." The venue for yesterday's unveiling was the 80th floor of the Empire State Building in New York.

Tom Watson poses with Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America at yesterday's announcement. Picture: AP Photo
Tom Watson poses with Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America at yesterday's announcement. Picture: AP Photo

Surely they weren't going to appoint King Kong? Not quite, but in golfing terms they've gone for a giant all right.

With Tom Watson at the helm, the Americans will be thumping their chests like a colossal fictional gorilla. In the early exchanges ahead of the transatlantic tussle at Gleneagles in two years' time, the US have roared the first, loud statement of intent. After seven defeats in the last nine stagings of the biennial battle, including an anguish-laden loss at Medinah in October, Bishop and his cronies have sought something of a radical remedy.

And Watson could be just what the doctor ordered. At 63, this celebrated son of Kansas, who captained America to their last win on European soil, at The Belfry in 1993, has become the USA's oldest captain, eclipsing the record held by Sam Snead, who was 57 when he performed the duties back in 1969.

Most observers had been tipping David Toms, Fred Couples or even the decorated 65-year-old Larry Nelson for the post in Perthshire. Watson had barely registered on the radar, but that all changed over a frantic past few days as speculation mounted and the eight-time major winner was thrust into the picture.

His appointment signals a significant departure from the norm for the PGA which, for many a year, had used a fairly established formula to select its captains: find a 40-something former major champion who was still active on the PGA Tour. That policy has now been ditched for the time being and the PGA ground control has called out to Major Tom. A surprising move? Most certainly. A masterstroke? Absolutely.

Modern theory dictates that the captain these days must be immersed in his players. He has to be involved in close-quarter combat with them week-in, week-out and know every intricate detail of their game. He must get into their heads and guddle about to find out what makes them tick.

Critics may suggest that Watson, who plays largely on the over-50s gravy train that is the Champions Tour while making cameo appearances on the main circuit and in the majors, is too detached from the regular cut and thrust. He's not actually been to a Ryder Cup since he was a captain.

Yet, in Watson, who made the cut in last weekend's Australian Open and was the only player to break 70 on a testing final day, the US possess a no-nonsense man of quite staggering golfing stature and someone who will command a level of respect that only Jack Nicklaus could top. For once, a certain Tiger Woods, always something of an enigma in the Ryder Cup arena and a player Watson was particularly critical of when the former world No.1's sordid off-course antics engulfed him, will be overshadowed by the sheer presence of his team captain.

As the match is to return to Scotland for the first time since 1973, the Gleneagles high command must be rubbing their hands raw with anticipation. They could not have hoped for a better visiting captain for a contest on Scottish soil. Watson is revered in these parts and his passion for the game in the home of golf is matched by the adoration that gushes from the galleries. Having won four of his five Open Championship titles in Scotland, as well a trio of Senior Open crowns, Watson's affinity with this wee corner of the globe runs deep. When he came within an eight-foot putt of becoming the oldest Open champion during that roller-coaster week at Turnberry in 2009, this relationship was strengthened further.

If it's cold, wet and miserable in Perthshire come autumn 2014, Watson, one of the finest exponents of this Royal & Ancient pursuit when the elements are at their most boisterous, will embrace the challenge and galvanise his troops. He may just neutralise Europe's home course advantage, too, and probably will be a bigger attraction than his European counterpart, whoever that may be.

Officials on this side of the pond will decide in January and this latest development will certainly have a major impact on that particular process. Paul McGinley, a valuable vice-captain down the years and a man who lives and breathes the Ryder Cup, deserves his chance, but the pendulum may now be swinging further in favour of Darren Clarke, a high-profile major winner with a considerable presence who will not look out of place standing next to Watson.

And what about Colin Montgomerie? The big Scot, who led Europe to glory in 2010, maintains that the captaincy is a "one-hit deal" and admitted last night that "it will be a task to take on the likes of Tom Watson, who is very well-respected, well-liked and loved here in Scotland." In his own back yard, though – he lives just up the road from Gleneagles in Dunning – Monty would, no doubt, relish the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the American legend.

The PGA of America's decision is as bold as it is popular. "We're tired of losing," said Watson, as he pondered his nation's dismal recent record in the Ryder Cup. "I learned to win by hating to lose. That's the attitude I hope my players have; it's time to stop losing."

Europe have been warned. The afterglow of the magical Miracle of Medinah still burns brightly but, barely three months on from that momentous comeback in Chicago, thoughts already are turning to 2014 and the visit of a glorious golden oldie to Gleneagles.

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