2013 PGA Championship Interview Transcript: Tom Watson
KELLY ELBIN: Participating this week in his 32nd PGA Championship, Tom Watson, the 2014 United States Ryder Cup Team Captain joining us at the 95th PGA Championship here at Oak Hill Country Club.
Tom, your first PGA Championship in ten years; Oak Hill in 2003 being the last, welcome back, and some thoughts about ...
TOM WATSON: That was the last one I played in? I know I didn't play very well. This course gets my goat every time. I don't play this course very well.
KELLY ELBIN: It's a heck of a venue, isn't it?
TOM WATSON: It is. It's one of the toughest courses we play. I've read other players' comments about the golf course. They say the same thing: It's one of the toughest courses we ever play in a major championship.
This course has held the U.S. Open, the PGA, the Senior PGA and the U.S. Amateur, The Ryder Cup, and the Senior Open. Miller Barber won that.
Somebody said only 13 players have ended up under par after 72 holes in all of those events, so that shows you how tough this golf course is.
KELLY ELBIN: We've heard over and over that the premium is on ball striking out here, getting the ball in play. Would you agree with that?
TOM WATSON: That's normally the case any place you play. In this case, they do have a graduated rough here. In years past, they never had a graduated rough here. You were either in the fairway or you were in the hay. That graduated rough, it makes it so sometimes you can get the ball on the green, but in my case, rarely can I get the ball on the green from the graduated rough.
The fairways are absolutely perfect. The greens are perfect. The condition of the golf course is very consistent. The fairways are running very fast, as of now, before any rains occur. And so it's not playing particularly long from that standpoint, but it's playing like Oak Hill should, and it's a very difficult golf course.
I kid people; I say I make about two birdies a round here (chuckling). I don't make very many birdies on this golf course. Actually I birdied the last two holes I played today on 8 and 9, so that's a good way going into tomorrow's first round.
KELLY ELBIN: On another front, next month, you're going to be going back overseas for the one year countdown for The Ryder Cup to be playing at Gleneagles.
TOM WATSON: I am.
KELLY ELBIN: I understand you recently had an opportunity to go over to Gleneagles. Are you happy with what you saw?
TOM WATSON: I had a chance to go visit Gleneagles, the hotel, and do some logistics as far as rooms are concerned and seeing how the traffic flow goes. I took a good look at the golf course. Andy North was with me, my assistant captain, or I guess you call them vice captains, and we took a look at a lot of different things.
You know, there are a lot of mundane details you have to get done and make the decisions on. Of course, the PGA and Susan Martin are great at that. Susan has been doing this for 13 Ryder Cups now, so she gets it. She knows what to do. If we have a problem, we just ... "Susan, what's been done in years past here?" And she'll remember what's been done, and we'll say, "Okay, we'll do it that way, too." Actually, "What's the best way to do this?" is how we phrase it to Susan.
Looked at the golf course, Centenary Course, they have a lot of drainage going on there, drainage help right now. They put 5,000 tons of sand and they are going to put another 5,000 tons of sand on the golf course to help it drain.
The weather there is going to be cold. The highs are in the mid 50s on average. Of course, you can get that rare heat week there, or you can have a not so rare cold week there, too, where temperatures to be down in the 30s or maybe the upper 20s and with some frost. At that time of the year, it can get cold there.
One of the things, as a captain, I talk to players as they start to emerge as players on the team, and telling them some of the things that are going to happen over there that maybe they are not aware of. As I said all along, I'm a stage manager; I set the stage for the players, for the actors. That's what I do and that's what I'll be continually doing in my role as the captain of The Ryder Cup Team.
KELLY ELBIN: It's very early in the points system, but your names at the very top?
TOM WATSON: This is the same team as it was last year, right now. Very honestly, you look after three events, I don't think ... there are three names here that were not on The Ryder Cup last year; nine of them were.
Q. I think I read somewhere on your recent trip to Gleneagles, you asked for pin sheets from the Johnnie Walker Championship, and you were denied; is that true?
TOM WATSON: We had some people take us around the golf course and we asked for the pin sheets and I looked at them with a smile, and said, "You're not going to give it to us?"
They said, "No, we're not."
No, they will give us some pin sheets, that's not a problem. That's no big deal. Kind of friendly repartee back and forth. The way it's going to be conducted is straight up Tournament golf. I've been assured that the golf course will be set up not with any particular bias in mind for whatever bias that might be. It's going to be set up by The European Tour and I've been assured that that's going to happen. That's the right way to do it.
You don't want the captains themselves determine how the golf course is going to play or the flag positions. Let's just go out and play the golf course the way we see it, and that's the way it was presented to me and that's the way it's going to be.
Q. With your prolific history in The Open Championship, how impressed were you with Phil Mickelson on Sunday going out and grabbing that championship?
TOM WATSON: I was duly impressed. I watched it and watched the whole thing unveil.
With Phil, you never know what you're going to get; you're always expecting maybe a bad shot here, and how is he going to recover from that bad shot. But as I told him yesterday morning when I saw him here early, and told his caddie, Bones, I emailed him a couple of weeks ago, I said, "He showed what he's made of."
I'll tell you another thing that showed what he's made of, he showed how he prepared for the Tournament properly. He went over and he played links golf. He played The Scottish Open on a true links golf course and he got the feel for playing links golf. He's done it before; he has not won before, but I contend that that always helped me in the past when I had the opportunity to do that, to go over and get used to playing links golf before you play a links golf course. We don't play links golf but once a year, and how are you going to adjust only playing two practice rounds on a links golf course. You have to go over there and play more than that and get used to those conditions, and he's done that.
Q. I'm just curious, back in the '70s, how different would it have been to hear a story like Hunter did where he pulled out of a Tournament leading, didn't play the next week to be at home with his wife and child. Was that done back then?
TOM WATSON: I can only tell you a personal experience. In 1979, in September, at the Greenbrier, The Ryder Cup Team amassed there on Monday. My wife was very pregnant at the time and I advised the PGA, that if my wife had the baby that I was going to retire and that there should be somebody else to take my place, and that happened on Thursday morning, 3:00 am in the morning, and I did retire, and left there with mixed emotions of course. But the most important emotion was the birth of my baby.
Q. Did you face any criticism from people wondering why you would do that?
TOM WATSON: If I did, I don't remember it. It wouldn't have made any difference anyway.
Q. How impressive is it to you that Tiger has 79 Tour victories, and do you think he can win a hundred?
TOM WATSON: I think he can win a hundred. Again, one of the impressive things that I just read this last week is he's had ten seasons where he's won five Tournaments or more in that season. I mean, how many players on our Tour, have won five Tournaments in a season? Count 'em up. You had Vijay win nine one year. You people know better than I do, really.
Q. Nick Price.
TOM WATSON: Nick Price, that was 20 years ago. Come on, help me out here. Come up with another name, other than Tiger, five Tournaments in a year. That's amazing. That's remarkable.
Q. When you were playing on The Ryder Cup, which captain had the most influence on you in terms of how he handled the squad and the responsibility of being captain?
TOM WATSON: You can't rank them. They all did a great job as far as doing what they had to do, and that was conducted in the spirit of golf. The Ryder Cup ... my most poignant memory of The Ryder Cup was the flag raising ceremony at Royal & St. Annes and listening to our captain at that time, Dow Finsterwald, he made just an elegant opening speech as the American Ryder Cup Team captain. Just the feeling that I had sitting there and watching the American flag go up and being part of that team right there, that was my most vivid memory of being on The Ryder Cup.
The different captains that I've been under from Ray Floyd to Jack to Dave, they were all terrific, just terrific captains, wonderful captains.
Captain, again, you basically set the stage for the players. You don't do a heck of a lot. We do behind the scenes a little bit with making choices on clothes ... big deal. Susan Martin and the PGA, they have got this thing all wired. They know how to run these things.
My job as a captain is to pick the team, the three at large players, the captain's picks, and then put the teams together the best way I think that they should be put together in order to win.
When I was captain in 1993, I told the team that I'm going to put players ... I'm trying to win here. If I don't play you, it's for a reason. I'm going to play the best possible teams possible, that I think possible that are going to win The Ryder Cup for us.
After the first round, my strategy was blown right up, because Payne Stewart and Paul Azinger, they were just shooting lights out in practice rounds, making ten birdies and things like that. They got beat; they got whacked six and five in the first match. Now, what do you do? A lot of that had to do with the pressure, how it built up, because we had a three hour fog delay and I saw Payne's eyes and they were just opened like this, and Paul's like this (indicating very big) and teed off, made the decision to split that team up.
Like Roy Williams said, the basketball coach, if I want to get some advice on how to coach a team, especially on an away game, he said, Tom, I make a game plan for every team we play against, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that and do that, and then he said, invariably, five minutes into the game, I'm coaching by the seat of my pants and the game plan is out the window. That's kind of the way it has to happen. You make the best decisions that you can make at the time you're trying to make the decisions and that's what you try to do.
Q. Following on from your points there, and to do with the intervening period since 1993 when there has been very little success for the Americans at The Ryder Cup, and I'm curious about your level of frustration at that, how it manifested itself, how you actually communicated that to those in the PGA, whether it's Ted Bishop or others, and how it then came about that you became The Ryder Cup captain this time around.
TOM WATSON: Well, there's a lot of questions in there. The way I handled it was that I hated it. I hate losing. This last Ryder Cup, losing after a four point lead, it tears you up. It tears me up inside. I had a vacuum; I lived with a vacuum for three or four days after watching the defeat.
I still feel like I have a little ownership in that, because I played on the team. I understand what the players are going through. And it doesn't sit well with me. We have lost seven out of the last nine Ryder Cups, and my advice to anybody who is going to be on this team is that I hate to lose, and I hope you hate to lose more than I hate to lose. We're going to go out there with a purpose.
The way I was chosen as The Ryder Cup captain was Ted Bishop called me not too soon after the 2012 Ryder Cup and he asked me if I would be interested in being the captain. I said, let me think about it and I'll call you back. And I called him back, and I said I'd be honored to, I'd love to do it again. In fact, what I didn't say was that I had been waiting for that call for the last 20 years, because I'd always wanted to be a Ryder Cup Captain again.
Q. Your management of players, I suppose it manifests itself in how you managed yourself as a player and the experience you had with other captains; what do you plan to do differently with regard to the team dynamic and the team room ...
TOM WATSON: Nothing. It will remain the same.
Q. It's been said that the 1981 Ryder Cup Team is one of the best teams in all of sports.
TOM WATSON: That was pretty good.
Q. Not just golf. What was it like being a part of that team? Did you feel you were a part of a 1927 Yankees type team? And I know the Cup wasn't as big as it is now ...
TOM WATSON: I'll tell you a little story, and it has to do with the PGA distinguished service honoree tonight, Lee Trevino. It's funny and it just added a great deal to the team, levity to the team. Of course, Lee, he can add a great deal of levity to anywhere, but he said, "I want Payne as my partner, and I'm going to caddie for him. I'm not going to let his caddie ... I'm going to caddie for Jerry Pate. I'm going to take this guy and he's going to hit the clubs I tell him to hit and how I tell him to hit it."
They went out and I think they run their first match six and five, five and four, they came back in that evening, and Jerry was as happy as you ever saw a person. And Lee said, "Yeah, I clubbed him every club out there today and he hit the ball just the way he should hit the ball when he's playing by himself." That kind of lightened everybody up.
We got on a big roll there and never looked back. But it would be great to have that type of team again where everybody was coming in there playing well and they had a great major Tournament experience on that particular 1981 team, and got off to a great start, and just the floodgates opened right after the second match.
Q. Did you have a sense, I think on the 12 man team, there was something like nine Hall of Famers and everybody but Bruce Lietzke had won a major championship. Did you have a sense that this was a special team?
TOM WATSON: Not really. It was a special team because Jack was on it. Lee was on it. That made it awfully special to me.
I always had a pretty good break, because it didn't matter kind of ... if Jack was on the team, it seemed they always paired Jack and me together. It's kind of nice to get on the first tee at The Ryder Cup and they announce the team, and you've got the name Jack Nicklaus as your partner. It relieves a little bit of the pressure.
I tell you, that week at Walton Heath, I was driving the ball poorly, and Jack and I were playing alternate shot. I drove in the heather five times in our match, and Jack put it on the green out of the heather five times. Five times he put the ball on the green, and the other was just short of the green. We won pretty handily that day, but not because of me; it was because of Jack.
Q. The saying that is almost synonymous with The Ryder Cup now is that the winning captain gets too much of the credit and the losing captain gets too much of the blame. What do you think when you hear something like that?
TOM WATSON: Well, as I said before, you make decisions based on the best information you have at that particular time you're making the decision. That's all you can go by. If you're second guessed, you're second guessed, as a captain.
But the reality of it is it's not the captain that does anything at all. The players go out and they either win or lose it. That's the whole bottom line. That's the answer to your question is it's the players' responsibility, and the players, they understand that.
Q. The second most popular excuse, or the most popular excuse that I hear is captains say, well, the other team ... we played great but the other team made more putts than we did. You know, putting is part of the game.
TOM WATSON: Sometimes that's the reality of it. No big deal. The other team, just they performed better.
Q. Performed better is different than they putted better.
TOM WATSON: Well, sometimes you break it down and they did putt better. We putted awfully well the first two matches, the first two days this last year at Medinah. We made a heck of a lot more putts than they did and they made a heck of a lot more putts than we did in the singles matches.
It's like some days you go out and you shoot 65 and the other days you go out and you shoot 75. Did you make the putts when you shot 75? Probably not. Did you make the putts when you shot 65? You bet you did.
Q. Have you spoken to many players this week about The Ryder Cup, and if so, can you share any of those conversations?
TOM WATSON: I really haven't talked to them about The Ryder Cup, but I had a chance to play with Billy Horschel and Nick Watney. I've watched a bunch of them hit it on the practice tee today. I spent about 45 minutes to an hour just kind of watching how the practice tee operated today. Watched the players get their lessons from their coaches, or just hit balls themselves. Just kind of taking it in.
Q. How closely do you watch the week to week results on the PGA Tour in looking ahead to The Ryder Cup, are you really looking closely now, or is it still too early?
TOM WATSON: It's a little early right now, but I do watch. I've watched a lot more PGA Tour golf this year than I ever have. Next year, I'll watch it a lot more. Next year, it's my duty to keep a very close eye on how players are performing.
As I said, the three things I want in a player: I want a player who will be able to perform under pressure. I want to see how they basically play under pressure. I want to see what type of heart they have, how much they can hold the lead, what they do when they are under that pressure. That's going to describe to me the type of player that I want; I want that type of player on the team that can carry the ball and not fumble the ball. That's the type of player I'm looking for.
Q. Obviously you're here as a player competing in the PGA Championship, and one would assume that you want to compete as best you can and prepare as best you can and play as best as you can, but you're also here as The Ryder Cup captain and one would assume that that's on your mind, as well. How big of a challenge is it in your preparation to play well here with all you're thinking about with the Ryder Cup and things?
TOM WATSON: I'm not thinking about The Ryder Cup very much to be honest with you. I'm thinking about my performance in this week's Tournament.
I practiced today; I practiced yesterday. I'm trying to get to a point where I feel comfortable with my golf swing, as I always do. I'm driving the ball well, putting the ball well. My iron game is pretty sketchy, and that concerns me. But I went and worked on it today and hit it a little bit more consistently. That's why I'm here. I'm here to play in the PGA Championship, not as The Ryder Cup captain, but as a player.
Q. In the past when you and Jack were basically like the intimidation team to get the team moving in the right direction, in the last few Ryder Cups, they have tried to build that with Phil and Tiger and that really hasn't gone too well. Will you try and sculpture an intimidation team maybe outside the Tiger, Phil arena?
TOM WATSON: Well, you hope that you can come up with an intimidation team. Hal Sutton tried it with Tiger and Phil just once. I would think that these guys, if they got on a roll, just think what type of intimidating team they could be. That's kind of the Dream Team. It could be.
Nothing's set in stone as far as the players who are going to be on the team, so I don't know who I'm going to be working with or have to deal with putting teams together. I know from past experience what teams seem to have worked the best and what teams didn't work. There's a history. I'll use that history, if the same players are on the team, as I'm sure there will be, I'll use that history to help me determine who best to play with whom.
Q. A non Ryder Cup question. A lot of first time Major winners in this championship and surprise winners over the years. Is there anybody that stands out in your mind that might be poised for a breakthrough here or that the course sets up well for, not necessarily a surprise, but somebody that doesn't have a major and could win one here?
TOM WATSON: Well, I just think that it's such a tough golf course, you've got to have all your faculties here. Pick 'em; going into this Tournament, who can hit the ball in the fairway. You hit the ball in the rough too many times, you're going to struggle.
Yesterday's rough around the greens was virtually ... you couldn't control the ball at all out of the rough on the greens yesterday. They did top it today and it was easier to play out of today. You had some control of the ball around the greens when you missed the green. Yesterday you didn't.
That type of rough, in the primary rough, that's the type of rough you have. If you miss the ball off the tee very many times, you're going to get your just reward.
Who are those players? Who can put the ball in the fairway the most? When Trevino won here with four straight rounds under 70, first time it had ever been done in a U.S. Open, that was remarkable. This course is a tough golf course. I've heard Mickelson say it. I've heard Woods say it. I've heard a number of players say that; that this may be the toughest golf course, but the fairest golf course that we play. And, pick 'em.
Somebody's going to win this thing, and that person is going to play awfully well, awfully good golf this week.
Wish I could say that's me (smiling).
KELLY ELBIN: Tom Watson, in his 32nd PGA Championship, thank you.
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