SAN FRANCISCO — Barely more than three months ago, I argued that no coaching job in sports is more overhyped than Ryder Cup captain. Now we have an exception to the rule: Tom Watson.
Watson might not lead the United States to victory in Scotland in 2014, and even if he does, it will reflect more on the players (my main point in September). But the PGA of America made a bold, brilliant choice in tapping Watson as captain.
This is an inspired move on several levels:
• Only a few golfers resonate among casual fans: Jack Nicklaus. Arnold Palmer. Watson. Tiger Woods.
The Ryder Cup is a huge deal in golf circles, and Europe, but it doesn’t create big buzz in mainstream America. That’s partly because the event occurs during the National Football League season, and we all know the third-string tight end on the New England Patriots is far more important than any golfer on the planet.
Even so, Watson will stir talk about the Ryder Cup, because many casual fans know his story.
• Watson’s selection ends a string of mostly bland, predictable U.S. captains. The past four: Davis Love III, Corey Pavin, Paul Azinger and Tom Lehman. They all fit in a tidy box, one-time major champions in their 40s, a trend David Toms figured to extend.
That’s nice and all, but Watson won eight majors. He commands instant respect, because he’s Tom Freakin’ Watson.
• Even if Watson and Woods attended Stanford, they are not buddies. Two years ago, Watson harshly criticized Woods’ on-course behavior. Unlike recent captains, Watson will not let Woods decide when and with whom he plays.
• Watson is over-the-moon popular in Scotland, where he won four of his five British Open titles. He memorably flirted with another Open win at Turnberry in 2009, at age 59. The Scots adore him.
• Maybe he could put himself in the Sunday singles lineup. Watson will be 65 by then, making him a great candidate to take on Rory McIlroy (who will be 25). Now that would be a cool match.