2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team interview with: CAPTAIN TOM WATSON
JULIUS MASON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for joining us for this post‑PGA Championship Ryder Cup Captain news conference.
We have a few people in the audience that I'd like you to meet. First, The PGA of America Secretary, Paul Levy, is out there someplace. Back there, also PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua.
And now it's my pleasure to introduce the 38th president of The PGA of America, from Franklin Indiana, Ted Bishop.
TED BISHOP: Thanks, Julius. As you all know we are six week as way from The Ryder Cup, and now that the final major championship of the year is over with, The PGA of America can really get into Ryder Cup mode.
In addition to the nine players that earned automatic spots yesterday on September 2 in New York City, our captain, Tom Watson, will announce his three captain's picks.
For me this has been a great journey with Tom. I've gotten to know him real well last 20 months. I had high expectations of him as a Ryder Cup Captain, and I can honestly say, Tom, you've done nothing but exceed those expectations in every way.
And I think what's impressed me more than anything has been the effort that Tom has made to get to know the players, played with the players. Very unique set of circumstances when you have a 64‑year‑old captain who can go out and compete with these guys week‑in and week‑out, and fortunately for Tom, unfortunately for our team, at times he's beaten some of our players at these events. But I think that gives him a great amount of credibility with the players and we are certainly very confident of his ability to lead our team.
I heard an interesting statistic this morning that I think bodes well for the United States Ryder Cup Team. The last time that a European player won both The Open Championship and PGA Championship in the same year, the United States won The Ryder Cup, and that was in 2008 when Pádraig Harrington accomplished that same feat.
So on behalf of Tom and our entire Ryder Cup Team, I want to thank Rory McIlroy for winning yesterday and setting a stage for the United States victory in September.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce to you the 28th individual to serve as United States Ryder Cup Team Captain, Tom Watson.
TOM WATSON: Thanks, Ted. Thank you very much. As Ted alluded to, it's been a pleasure over the last couple years, especially this last year, to get to know some players out there, some of the younger players ‑‑ in fact, all of them are younger, and to have a chance to get inside their heads, be able to play golf with them and to get to understand who they are as a person and really create some new friendships, some new understandings.
And that's been the most pleasurable part of what I've had to do in the last ‑‑ especially the last year. I want to say that as far as the team is concerned, the nine players that have made the team, I'm wonderfully happy with the team. I believe that each and every player has the ability to play great golf and compete in the highest level in The Ryder Cup.
My job as a captain is to inspire them, if I can, and the motivation is there. And I can tell you without hesitation that the motivation is there in each one of these players. I've talked with them, I've been with them, I've played with them. Their comments to me, the conversations I've had about how they feel about The Ryder Cup have left it very clear that these players are motivated to the nth degree to win this Ryder Cup. And that's all I ask of them. That's all you can ask of a player.
With that said, you look at The European Team, and yes, on paper they look stronger than the American Team. But our team, they have got that motivation from 2012 that I'm going to lay on them as I've said in the past. But I think that's a great motivator.
As far as my three spots are cop concerned, over the next three weeks I'll be very, very focused on the players who are high up in the ranks. And with that said, there's a factor that I look at most and that's the gut factor; the factor that, can that man play under pressure, can that man hit the shots under pressure. How do I know that? In getting to know these players, I'm getting a understanding from there, but I get an understanding from outside sources, as well.
There are a lot of people in golf who have observations about players that I will utilize in my assessment of the players and that will definitely enter into my decision on who to pick on September 2.
As far as Tiger is concerned, I will continue to speak with Tiger over the next three weeks to monitor his situation. Obviously he has not been playing well, but I think it's been a result, as you well know, of his injury and his coming back from back surgery. Again, I will monitor his situation and be continually talking with him.
And with that, I'd like to basically open it up to any questions that you might have about certain players that are on the team. I can do that or any other questions you'd like to pose.
Q. Just getting right to Tiger, what would Tiger have to say or do now that he can't play, for you to maybe perhaps use that pick on him?
TOM WATSON: Well, the most important thing is his health. I've said it consistently all the way through the issue with Tiger after his injury. If he's healthy and is playing well, I'll pick him.
Right now, his health is not good. And whether that can change in the next three weeks, as I said, I'll monitor the situation. I'll be talking with him, and as far as his playing ability is concerned, I'll monitor that, as well.
Q. Your three picks, have you considered those three players as parts of a puzzle to plug in to complement the nine that you already have; has that been part of one of your considerations or will it be part of one of your considerations?
TOM WATSON: That is not the most important part of the consideration. It is a minor part. The major part is how they are playing, and are they playing well. I've said it a hundred times: You want players that are playing well to be on your team or rising and starting to show some real good form.
I want the players that are in the best form by September 2, and these players, they know that. They know that. I got a text last night from one of the players who is not on the team and it said, "I am playing well, I've got a new driver and I'm going to make you pick me." That's the type of attitude I've consistently had from a lot of players; I want to make you pick me, and I like that.
Q. That text wasn't from Tiger, was it? (Laughter).
TOM WATSON: Actually Tiger said that to me in our conversation: "I want you to pick me."
Q. Did he say anything about the driver?
TOM WATSON: Didn't say anything about the driver.
Q. Going back to that, you have said consistently that if he's healthy and he's playing well; he's had recurring back injuries in his last two tournaments, so obviously he's not healthy at the moment and he's not going to be playing at all. I think people would look at the last two weeks and wonder, how could you even consider him. And outside of going down to South Florida and taking him on for 18 holes, have you considered that?
TOM WATSON: I think it really directly comes from Tiger, how he assesses himself, because Tiger, he has a directness to him. He's just like me. I'm direct and he's direct. The main thing is I can't really ‑‑ I can't assess his medical condition and I honestly can't assess how he's playing. It really is going to be having to come from information from Tiger himself.
But again, I don't say this ‑‑ I don't make this comment ‑‑ I don't make this comment loosely. He is Tiger Woods and he brings a lot to the team, if he has the ability to play and he's healthy. He brings a lot to the team. And I'd be a fool not to consider him.
Q. You said that the players are motivated by 2012. Not to second guess what happened then, but looking back on there, what can they learn from that experience and apply this time?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think the thing that may have occurred there was that they had such a big lead, they got a little bit complacent and they were going to rely on other people, basically, to win it; and they said, well, I can kind of coast a little bit.
That's kind of a natural thing when you have a big lead; that you might feel like you can coast. The other side of that coin is that you play more conservatively. You change your game style. There are other factors there ‑‑ I don't know. I know how I would think. Players playing with a lead sometimes back off and players coming from behind put the pedal to the metal. That's what happened and that's how I assess what happened on the last day in 2012.
Q. About a month ago, the picks, what we thought would be the picks, seemed pretty solidified to a large extent. Now it seems to be a pretty open slate. Can you confirm that you would go down as far as necessary to find the hot guy?
TOM WATSON: I do confirm that, Alex, yes. Back in ‑‑ my track record in '93, I went to 23. I picked Ray Floyd at 23.
Q. Question about two guys on the team. First of all, the ability of Phil Mickelson to raise his game this week?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, that was wonderful. That was wonderful. I love Phil. A lot of times you don't know what you're going to get; it's like that old box of chocolates thing. You never know what you're going to get with Phil.
But you know one thing: It's going to be exciting and many times it's going to be spectacular, and what he did yesterday was wonderful.
I tell you what just confirmed to me, that he's in it for real, absolute real, was the fact that you saw him on TV at 9:30 in the morning hitting balls with Butch at the back of the range. And he said he might have tired out at the end of the round, and I thought of that. I said, man, you were out there for an hour hitting balls at 9:30 in the morning. I mean, you're going to wear yourself ‑‑ you're not that young anymore, you know.
But he told me, he said, "Captain, I'm going to make this team so you can have another pick. I don't want you to pick me. I want to make the team out right." And he did in spades and he did it well.
Again, I get back to the fact that you want players playing on the upswing when they are playing. Phil has had not a very good year, no Top‑10s until this week. And all of a sudden, boom, here he is in a major championship, almost won it. That's what I'm looking for.
Q. The second player I wanted to ask you about is Rickie Fowler who had a pretty extraordinary year, Top‑5 in all four majors and yet not a victory. Wondering how you assess his year and what you would tell him about his year, because he was pretty down yesterday.
TOM WATSON: Well, he should be down yesterday. I would have been down after yesterday, what occurred. Like you said, he made a couple mistakes. He made a mistake at 14 and he made a mistake at 17 ‑‑ 16, but it turned out okay.
Again, coming back the way he's done this year, starting to work with Butch I think has been a very big plus. He gives a lot of credit to Butch.
When you look at how confidence works, confidence works from you hitting good shots and then confirming you hit good shot after good shot after good shot. And Rickie's there right now. That's the type of player that you want on your team, a guy that has confidence in what they are doing. Now when they hit a bad shot, it's not the, ‘oh, no, what's going to happen next’. It's that he can brush it off and say, okay, that's just a bad swing, which we all have in a round of golf.
That's the confidence level that he has right now, and I admire what he's done.
Q. Could you comment about the status on Matt Kuchar and what you know about him and will you be monitoring him?
TOM WATSON: I don't know ‑‑ just from hearsay. The one thing said it was minor and it wasn't a serious issue, but I don't know for sure. You'd have to check with Matt or somebody that has direct contact with Matt.
I certainly hope it's just a minor thing. I've had a bad back. I had it injected right before the British Open and it worked a little bit. It didn't work real well but right now, my back is fine.
That's one of the things you get when you're playing golf. You get bad backs, bad necks. Look at Jason Dufner ‑‑ I feel sorry for him; I don't know, after seeing him on Friday ‑‑ I saw him on Friday, and he didn't look good. Neck injury, I've had neck injuries, I've had problems with necks. In my case, it's taken a long time to recover. Hope that's not the case with Jason.
Q. Paul Azinger said yesterday that he didn't see how you could take a player, meaning Tiger Woods, who is injured, and also is playing poorly, and he also mentioned that Tiger has not been a factor in U.S. success in that he's only played on two winning teams. Does that weigh into your process as well?
TOM WATSON: I've already answered that question and answered I think very matter of factually. He is Tiger Woods. He brings something to the team in a big way. He's been really good in the team room of recent and he's a factor with the players. I know that for a fact. He's a very positive influence on the players.
But the most important thing is, can he play; can he physically play, and is he playing well, get back to those two points. Like I said, I'll monitor that situation in the next three weeks.
Q. Sorry for how brutal this might sound, Tom, but the other question is: Can you trust him?
TOM WATSON: Absolutely.
JULIUS MASON: Take that. (Laughter).
Q. You said you went down to number 23 in '93. You have somebody at 21, Erik Compton. You guys are going to need a lot of heart over there?
TOM WATSON: Need three hearts.
Q. Have you considered him at all for what he would bring to that team room?
TOM WATSON: Well, the most important factor is how is he playing and what's he show when he's got under pressure, Bob, that's the most important factor. And yes, he's on my radar. It's pretty open right now as far as who is going to get the picks. It's pretty open, I can tell you.
And as I've said, these next three weeks are going to be a big factor in my decision in who is going to be the picks.
Q. How do you feel about taking picks on rookies who have never played The Ryder Cup? You only have three rookies on your team. Does that matter to you and is there any part of you that wonders, if you haven't played The Ryder Cup as an American, you probably don't have a lot of emotional baggage from losing all the time.
TOM WATSON: You stumped me.
Rookies are fine with me. If they are playing well, I can certainly manage them with the team as far as the first timers. I was a first timer. I know how I reacted to it and I know by talking with the past captains how some of their rookies have managed.
I've talked with Corey Pavin, Davis Love, Tom Lehman, talked with Nicklaus, talked with others, Dave Stockton, and we've had some very in‑depth conversations about their teams and some of the players on their teams about rookies.
Q. Can you talk about the way Rory gutted out a win yesterday and has he made himself a target at Gleneagles?
TOM WATSON: I wish he was playing for my team, I can tell you that. He's playing great.
Again, Rory is ‑‑ I just like the guy a lot. I mean, I like his manner. I like the way he plays. He reminds me of me, the way I play. He just picks it up, gets on with it. He's ready to go. He plays his shot and takes the consequences. Finds it and hits it again.
Right now, he's driving the ball better than anybody in the game. He has confidence in the driver ‑‑ when you have confidence in the driver that he has right now, and you have the ability to hit the ball as far, the game is easy. And he knows it and everybody else knows it.
Q. You mentioned that Europe on paper will have the stronger team. Can you expand on that a little bit? And also, given that the U.S. will enter The Ryder Cup as underdogs, do you think that may work to the team's advantage in some way?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think ‑‑ again, I think The European Team is the stronger of the teams right now on paper. But I have extreme confidence in the players that we have on our team and their motivation to go out and win the Cup back. It doesn't have ‑‑ it doesn't leave me any question that we're capable of winning the Cup.
Their team, you look at it, and you have to look at it on the basis of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Sergio's had a really good year. You look at Justin Rose has had a great year, Martin Kaymer; their team is full of star power, players that have been playing well.
My hope is that these players on our team will start to show better form coming up. The players that I pick for the team will be in good form when I pick them for the team and we bring the team that I think can win the Cup back.
Q. Regarding pressure, the pressure you have in stroke‑play tournaments is one thing, but the pressure you have in a Ryder Cup is a different type of pressure I think on a team format. Is there a different type of ‑‑ regarding rookies inexperienced with that pressure, is there a different type of personality or do you think about that differently because of the type of pressure that they will be facing in The Ryder Cup?
TOM WATSON: You do. To a certain degree you can do, and people can handle the pressure better than others. The track record shows that, whether they can hold their own pressure playing individually; can they hold the pressure, hold it or succeed under the pressure when they are playing individually. That's the only standard that I could go by.
As far as the team pressure, I think there's less pressure when you're playing as a team but there's more as an individual, obviously, when you're playing in the last day on Sunday, because you're one‑on‑one.
The pressure is greater in The Ryder Cup. I've said that a bunch, as well, and I think everybody understands that. How do I assess what players deal with pressure better than others? Well, comes from the track record, from their past experiences, their past tournaments they have played in as individuals, and to some extent, how they played in The Ryder Cup.
Q. As you have your conversations going forward with Tiger Woods, what's the benchmark from your point of view in terms of what he'll be able to contribute and the number of matches that he will play? Will you be wanting him to be able to say to you, I'm fit enough to go all five sessions if necessary?
TOM WATSON: I hope so. Again, it's about his physical capability. Right now, he can't go. Everybody understands that. He can't go 36 holes right now.
Q. But as you say, he is Tiger Woods and he brings that extra factor. So is it conceivable that if he were to say, look, I wouldn't be able to do all five sessions but I could contribute ‑‑
TOM WATSON: I'll let you know on September 2 (laughter).
Q. I know. By I'm just trying to get into your sort of thinking on this ‑‑
TOM WATSON: I'll let you know September 2 (laughter).
Q. Back in '93, you didn't have assistant captains like we have now on these teams and so farther. I'm wondering if you can talk about their role coming up next month, and also in particular, Andy North's role; he's sort of been your wing man at a lot of events you've been at and so forth.
TOM WATSON: I can't be happier with the three vice captains that have agreed to help me out as the captain. They bring a lot of power to the role of captain. They have their own individual attributes as far as being able to talk to the players. Steve is the most current of all the players and Andy and then Raymond. Raymond brings an attitude that I just love. It’s that killer attitude. That attitude that, I'm going to get this done.
Andy brings the same type of attitude underneath that, you might say that soft demeanor; he has an attitude that if you've ever seen him at a Wisconsin Badger basketball name, you understand what that attitude is all about.
And Steve, as I said, he's played on The Ryder Cup Team recently, and he's had the opportunity to play with all these players, and he knows them inside and out. He has their confidence and that will be a very good factor to him.
Getting back to being mundane about my comments in the past, I've said, I'm the stage managers and I set the stage for these players with the help of the vice captains and the PGA and everybody on the staff; I set the stage for these guys to go out and compete. They are the actors. They have to act.
I'm looking for the guys who remember their lines the best and who want to be there at the end with the curtain call getting that standing ovation.
Q. You talked about stage managing. You might have a script change perhaps with Steve Stricker, if the situation arises as a sub. At what point do you have to sort of know about it ‑‑ I know you could in theory take it into the opening ceremonies, but you've got Kuchar with the back issue. Can you talk about Steve's situation and how late you'd like to leave it?
TOM WATSON: Well, I told Steve to bring his golf clubs over with him, if that's any indication of what I might do. (Laughter).
JULIUS MASON: Boom.
Q. Couple things. Not questioning Tiger Woods' voracity, but is it possible that his emotion, his desire to play on this team may color his comments to you, and how do you really measure those comments knowing that that's a possibility?
TOM WATSON: Again, I trust Tiger to give me the straight skinny. I trust him inherently.
Q. And the other part of this is, like over the last month or so, you said there were two measures in regards to Tiger Woods. First is if he was healthy, and second if he was playing well, and that you were concerned that after the PGA, that you wanted to see him playing. It's very clear when he left here on Friday that he didn't seem to have much intent on playing over the next three or four weeks. Is it imperative that he plays a golf tournament for you to pick him?
TOM WATSON: I can't answer that right now. All I can do, as I said, is I've got to monitor his situation and during my conversations with him.
Q. It's probably too early to speculate on pairings but given the obvious friendship between Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson with the fist‑pumping yesterday, their respective performances, the now famous Tuesday gambling matches that they have on TOUR; do you think they will make a good pairing? Is it potentially a pairing for you?
TOM WATSON: They are potentially a pairing, not a question. But the thing about both of them, they said, "Pair me with anybody. I'll play with anybody."
And again, how do I assess that? I assess that right up to the point of the pairings, how these guys are playing, how they are playing their practice rounds, how they measure up to the golf course as I see it and how they see it, and how their caddies see it. I gather information from a lot of different sources, and that's how I'll assess my pairings. That's how I did the last time.
Q. It's been said for many years that if you were to beat Tiger in The Ryder Cup, if you were Europe, it felt like more than one point that you won in that match from the momentum, and I'm sure the Americans felt that way with Seve and José Maria at times. Beating Rory, how many points is that worth, do you think?
TOM WATSON: Well, any time you beat the star, that's a very big plus from a psychological ploy standpoint for your team.
You know, one of the things that really turned our team around in '93 was the pairing of John Cook and Chip Beck beating Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo the last match on Saturday. That was a big turnaround. We were still behind on points but the team room on Saturday night was just like the team room probably was at Medinah for the Europeans after Poulter birdied the last five holes on Saturday.
It just gives you a ray of hope. In '93 it was more than a ray of hope and for the European it is was probably just that ray of hope that said, yeah, we can still do this.
Q. In 1993, goes back to you, the last captain to take a team on the road and win The Ryder Cup. You consulted, I believe, Roy Williams, for advice prior to going to that. Any parts of the sports world you've consulted with?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, I've talked to Bo Ryan at Andy North's event up in Madison. I asked him some questions about certain psychological ploy parts of the game. Can't go into detail with it but I did and he gave me his unvarnished answers. It was wonderful.
Again, being I coach for a team is different than what I do for a living. I'm an individual playing individual golf. I played team sport as a kid and loved it. I played basketball and football throughout high school into college in the intramurals and I loved it. There was nothing like a team.
Just the camaraderie, the joy that you had when you win as a team; it's a feeling you never, ever forget, more so than your individual many times. And the losses, conversely, are worse. Getting some information on coaches who coach teams I think is a very important part of the process, my learning process, as captain for The Ryder Cup.
Q. Of your three rookies that you have on the team, is there any one of them that gives you a little bit of enthusiasm, a twinkle in your eye when you see them on your team, and what is it that gives that you twinkle that they bring to the team?
TOM WATSON: Well, I tell you, all three of them got game. I have to say that I've played with Jimmy Walker. Jimmy, he's got a game that's just spectacular. He can flat get it. He knows how to maneuver the ball. He's a great putter.
Patrick Reed finally found a driver. I played a practice round with him at The Heritage. He had broken his driver, and that kind of ‑‑ that was kind of the beginning of his poor play where he was always looking for a driver.
I tell you, when you break a driver ‑‑ I said about Rory, when you're driving the ball in the fairway, boy, life is easy. But when you're not driving the ball in the fairway, you can't get in the fairway with ease, that's a problem, and Patrick went through that span right through there.
You know, we've got Jordan Spieth. Jordan had a good start to the year this year. He was right in contention. He's had a rough go of it right now but it's something that we all go through as players. Again, I'm looking for Jordan to pick it up and start performing well in the next six weeks before The Ryder Cup.
Is it six weeks exactly?
JULIUS MASON: Ask your statistician next to you.
TED BISHOP: Yes.
TOM WATSON: How many days is it?
TED BISHOP: 42 days (laughter).
TOM WATSON: 42 days. Anyway, the players in the team are great players. They got there because they are great players, and they can perform under pressure.
I can't be happier with them. We have got players that can get the job done.
Q. If you don't pick Tiger as a team member, is there any chance you might pick him as a special, last‑minute vice captain?
TOM WATSON: I don't know, John Paul, I don't know.
Q. Second question regards injuries. There seem to be a lot of them recently.
TOM WATSON: Yeah, way too many.
Q. Does this seem different than 20 years ago; that there are more injuries, and if so, do you think there's any underlying cause of it?
TOM WATSON: Again, I can't answer that. I don't know. The golf swing is a violent swing. You twist and your spine is under continual stress when you're making a golf swing. Your neck, your spine, your hands, your knees, everything.
They think golf is an easy sport or it's not even a sport, it's a talent as Charles Barkley calls it, you make a violent move to the golf ball. Just look at Rory and the move he takes to the golf ball. There's a violent move in there and your body, if you do that a million times, your body is going to say, ah, I don't like this much anymore.
JULIUS MASON: A reminder, ladies and gentlemen, that the Ryder Cup Captain's picks news conference will be in New York City on September 2. It will be live on Golf Channel. Coverage starts at 6:00 PM. Captain Watson's announcement will come at 7:00 PM. If there aren't any other questions that I see ‑‑ I don't see any. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us at the 96th PGA Championship, and we look forward to seeing you at Gleneagles.
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