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Watson Prefers No Wild Card Picks in Ryder Cup
During a "Year to Go" press conference at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, site of the 2014 Ryder Cup, the captains for the opposing American and European teams, Tom Watson and Paul McGinley, respectively, met with the media and various dignitaries about the biennial event.
The Americans will seek to regain the cup after losing to the Euros last year at Medinah. One suggestion Watson had would be for the teams to be determined based on performance, not by their captains, just like it was when he was a participant.
Of the change, Watson said, "If you really look at it, the purist form of Ryder Cup would be . . . no captain's picks, 12 players who qualify. That's the way I qualified my first two Ryder Cups, I think it was, or maybe three. All three of them, you had 12 players and no picks.
"Maybe that's the way it should go back to. I reduced my picks this year from four to three, and was thinking actually two, because I wanted the players who are playing, to get on the Ryder Cup Team, to have that as a goal. If they got there, then they have earned something very, very special. And maybe we should go back to no picks. What do you think about that, Paul?"
To laughter from the gathered crowd, McGinley said, "Different dynamic on the European side when we have so many players playing on the PGA Tour. So let's defer that one, thank you." Of course, one of Europe's stars in Chicago was Englishman Ian Poulter, one of Jose Maria Olazabal's two captain's picks last year.
Here's what else Watson and McGinley had to say during their presser.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance with us here this afternoon. My name is Scott Crockett, communications director of the European Tour, and it's my great pleasure to welcome you here at the Gleneagles Hotel. Today's press conference is culmination of a two day celebration of the fact that it is now a year to go before the 2014 Ryder Cup here at Gleneagles. The two gentlemen on my right have been involved in each and every part of that celebration process, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them both publicly, not only for their participation and their professionalism, but also for the sense of fun and the sense of enjoyment that they have brought to everyone that they have encountered over these past two days.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our 2014 Ryder Cup captains, Tom Watson and Paul McGinley. It is right and proper that our two captains are the sole focus of attention, but before we hear from them I would like to acknowledge several special guests with us in the audience today. Firstly, to the First Minister of Scotland, the Rt. Hon. Alex Salmond MSP. First Minister, from yesterday morning at Edinburgh Castle through to today here at Gleneagles, your personal attention and the attention of all your staff to all of us has been much appreciated by everyone in the official parties, and we are delighted to have you here with us today.
The Ryder Cup is, of course, a match between Europe and the United States, but it's also a friendship between the two; a fact that's perfectly illustrated in relationship between ourselves, the Ryder Cup Europe, and our colleagues at the PGA of America. We are thrilled that so many of hour friends have traveled across the Atlantic to be with us here this week, and I know that European Tour Chief, Executive George O'Grady, Ryder Cup Director Richard Hills and Chief Executive of the PGA, Sandy Jones, wish to put on record their personal welcome to all of our guests, led by The PGA of America president, Ted Bishop, and his wife Cindy, Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh and their communications director, Julius Mason. Finally, many of us in this room have had the pleasure of staying here at Gleneagles Hotel over the past couple of days. Celebrated as one of the Leading Hotels of the world, it really is not hard to see why, and we are delighted that managing director Patrick Elsmie, is with us here today. Patrick, to you and all of your staff, sincere thanks for your warmth and your hospitality.
And now to the men of the moment, before we move to questions from the media, Tom, perhaps you would like to kick us off with your reflections of the two days so far, and perhaps your own thoughts as you sit here with a year to go.
TOM WATSON: It was a wonderful experience to be part of the junior golf program that has been instituted here in Scotland for all nine year old kids to pick up a golf club and try the game, free lessons. It's a wonderful program. It culminated in 16 of them playing with Paul and me yesterday. That was a wonderful experience.
And then added to that was the Auchterarder School and their program of getting kids involved with the Ryder Cup through direct, hands on, practical approaches, anything from culinary to media to all sorts of different things that are involved with the Ryder Cup. And the applications of that, those applications are in particular important to them through their lives and doing a lot of different things, and I was very, very impressed by what I saw over there with the young people and the people who are teaching them.
MODERATOR: Paul, I'm sure you'll share Tom's views. Give us your own thoughts as you sit here with a year to go.
PAUL McGINLEY: Yes, of course, I echo all of those sentiments that Tom has said. I thought it was we are here in the Home of Golf, Scotland. And you know, obviously very proud to be a Ryder Cup Captain anywhere, but to be captain in the Home of Golf, it's an extra layer on top for us, Tom and I, and we very much appreciate that. It's been a wonderful two days. We started yesterday at Edinburgh Castle in a steam train and a history of Scotland, and then moved on then to see the future through the wonderful program of club golf and the school in Auchterarder today. As much as we want to have the most magnificent golf tournament ever staged next year, we also want to leave a legacy behind us, and that's been a big part of the last two days.
Q. It's been very jovial, lots of smiles from both of you over the two days, but have either of you learned any serious points of interest that helped you prepare for this time next year?
PAUL McGINLEY: I think anybody who knows Tom Watson knows how much of a competitor he is and he's not going to let his guard down at any stage, so I didn't expect anything, and that's the way it's been.
TOM WATSON: Come on, Paul. (Laughter).
PAUL McGINLEY: So I don't expect anything, and that's exactly what happened. But it's been fun spending time with Tom. And this is our first joint press conference together. We spent a lot of time together over the last two days, and it's been fun getting to know Tom even better, and I'm sure it will continue over the next 12 months.
TOM WATSON: We had the opportunity to have dinner at The Open Championship at Muirfield this year. And I think, yeah, we know this is a partisan event, and of course, we are on away turf right now and Scotland is showing its colors, and obviously the European Team is the favorite. But the one thing that Paul and I really did agree upon is the manner in which their matches are played; the way it should be played is probably paramount. We know there's going to be an edge. We know that as Paul said, he's going to go in his corner and I'm going to go in my corner as managers of these teams and try everything possible to create a winning atmosphere and let the actors go out and win it for us, and there's going to be an edge there.
But beyond that, the way we'll handle it is the important thing, and golf is that type of game. It requires respect; bottom line, it requires respect. When you lose, you have respect for the person who beat you. When you win, you have respect for the people you beat. And these players of today, on the Ryder Cup Teams have played against each other for years, so they are familiar with each other. They are friends. Many times, they are friends. But then they go on each side and they pull in each other's corner, and they draw the line right there. And that's what makes this event so wonderful is that at the end, it comes out, and yeah, there's a winner and a loser, but the guys go back to being friends again.
Q. Given your affinity with golf in Scotland and the Scottish people, how do you feel your PR battle has begun on Scottish soil with a year to go?
TOM WATSON: My PR battle? (Chuckles). I don't see it as a PR battle. I just see that the - I love the game of golf over here. I'm not - everybody knows that. I've always - after about four years of playing links golf, let's put it that way, I fell in love with it. The Scottish people, they are knowledgeable. They understand the game, and of course, they are going to be very partisan, we know that.
I remember my very first Ryder Cup match, it wasn't in Scotland, it was at Lytham and I remember Hubert Green and I had the team six down after ten holes, and I got on to the 11th green at Lytham St. Annes and I three putted after they made a 10 footer for birdie, and when I missed my 5 foot putt, there was a big cheer, and I had not heard that before. I had not heard somebody cheer me when I missed a putt. But I knew that was going to happen. But it still was a little bit - I was taken aback by it just a little bit. But the more you play in the Ryder Cup, you understand; you understand the partisanship of it and that's the beauty of this event.
Q. Tom, I hope you don't take this the wrong way but some people have said you're perhaps too old to be the Ryder Cup captain. What would you think about that and what does Paul think?
TOM WATSON: The way I've answered that question is that age is not an issue, at all, because the players that will be on my my team; our team, they know that I've been a player on the Ryder Cup. They know I've been a captain of the Ryder Cup. And they know that I know that they know (laughter). And that's all that matters.
Q. And Paul, is that something that you obviously are very aware of as well, his experience?
PAUL McGINLEY: Of course, yes, as Europe we have had a lot of success in the last decade in the Ryder Cup, no doubt about that. But if you look behind the end result of Europe winning, you see that particularly in the last two occasions, we won by one point; the margin is small, virtually as small as it can be. So the difference between the two teams is very slight in my mind. The teams are very well matched in terms of playing ability. I'm very aware that Tom has - the Americans are going to produce a very strong 12 man team, and when you put the layer of Tom Watson on top as captain, that's going to make it a very formidable package. I'm aware of that, and all the players are aware of that and it's going to make for a wonderful Ryder Cup next year, no doubt about that. But I'm under no illusions about how strong this package of America is going to be and there's no doubt that Tom Watson's captaincy is going to add to that.
Q. Yesterday would have been a good opportunity for to you have a good look at the golf course. Can you ask you what your impressions are on the course and which players in particular on your team the set up would suit best?
TOM WATSON: I was here after the Open Championship in July and my assistant, Andy North, was with me and we went around the golf course looking at it. My first impression was that without the wind, I think they will make some birdies on this golf course. I think birdies will be - there will be a lot of birdies made. People will enjoy that. Obviously the conditions make it so that sometimes you don't get that. If we have wind and cold weather, wet weather, that putts a damper on making a lot of birdies. But I think there will be a lot of birdies made and I think that - I hope that my team makes just a few more birdies than this team.
Q. The recent Johnnie Walker Championship, the course was set up a bit tougher than it has been in recent years. You said you were going to talk to players and get their feedback on that. Can you give us an idea of maybe the early feedback?
PAUL McGINLEY: The feedback is very clear from the guys like myself who have played the Johnnie Walker. I've played every edition of the Johnnie Walker here, and every time I come back, the golf course is in better condition than it was the year before. It's a great testament to the work going on behind the scenes here. There's no doubt with the addition of the SubAir system, the greens have quantifiably improved, and now with the drainage in the fairways as well, too, I really think there should be think touch wood, there should be no issues regarding water-logging of the golf course next year. I think we have things in place like the SubAir and the drainage, and that should take care of that.
So I think the golf course will be turned out impeccably and the feedback from the players is very strong. Everybody is looking forward to it. Jack Nicklaus was up here two years ago. Made a few subtle changes to the golf course, particularly around 18; a lot of run off areas around the 18th. I can assure you that I will be not putting be big, American style rough around that 18th green, because not long then will I have Tom Watson coming after me, but I'll have Jack Nicklaus, as well, too. So the run off areas will obviously be maintained as Jack has designed it.
Q. For both captains, Tom referred to Europe as being slight favorites but we've just seen a Tour Championship where there were 21 Americans and four Europeans and we've got six Americans in the top 10 of the world rankings. I just wonder whether they can comment on whether Europe already look as if they need another miracle.
TOM WATSON: After losing seven out of the last nine Ryder Cups, I don't think that question has any merit at all (laughter). The European Team has been absolutely sensational. I have to say, even though it left a pit in my stomach, just a hole in my stomach after our defeat this last September at Medinah, I have to say that if you look at it objectively, that Ryder Cup was sensational, sensational theatre. It really was something to see.
I'm not saying that it didn't affect our players. I know for a fact that our players through my conversations with our captain last year, Davis Love, he said our players were absolutely depressed over the fact that they lost and it kept with them for a while. Actually, I hope that that feeling remains for some of those players who will be on my team and our team coming up next year and be able to use that as a motivator. I don't think there's going to be much motivation necessary, but maybe just a word or two about, we don't want this to happen again, will maybe carry them over the hump, and they may make a few more putts when they need to.
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, I think relates to the previous question as well, too, insofar as the margin between the two teams is so slight. It has been for a number of years. And Lady Luck, I can tell you right now, Lady Luck has shone on us at the right times in the last two Ryder Cups, there's been no doubt about it and we have been fortunate to come out on the right side. Some wonderful play and great heart from our team at the right moments in time, but having said that Lady Luck has always played a factor and we have been on the right side of Lady Luck.
I'm well aware that the margin between the two teams is very slight, and I think it's going to be a very closely fought contest, and that's what makes the Ryder Cup so special and that's why everybody has such an interest and we know it's going to be in boxing terms a heavyweight contest from toe to toe from start to finish.
Q. Yesterday you mentioned, you talked about the pressure and how you needed to try to ease it for the players. Who are the more light hearted individuals on your side who will bring a bit of humor into the mix?
TOM WATSON: The players that come to mind are - I think the infamous Jason Dufner with his wry wit. I think he has a way - even though he's pretty silent around you people and the public, I hear he's quite a funny person when he's in private. That type of humor is what I would like to inspire, and not only inspire, but actually encourage the players to have during the heat of the contest, because there is a tremendous amount of pressure. We all know that. There's more pressure here, we've said it a number of times, there's more pressure in The Ryder Cup than playing for yourself. I've experienced that as a player and as a captain. That pressure can - with humor, you can get rid of it, a team humor. And there are a few things that you do as a captain that can help that, but it really comes - you hope you can nurture it from the players themselves as a team.
Q. And do you get a bit of that from Tiger?
TOM WATSON: Get a bit of what?
Q. Wry humor.
TOM WATSON: Yeah, he has a sense about him that - he's got the needle out and he knows how to needle people the right way. He became very much a part of the team this year, in talking to Davis, he was very much a leader, and that was - we need him to be a leader. There's not a question about that. I don't care who you are, if you don't look up to Tiger Woods, what he's accomplished in his career and say, I want to play like Tiger Woods, you don't know what you're talking about. He's had the most remarkable career probably of almost any professional golfer in the history of your game. To have him on your team when I played in the Ryder Cup, I stood on the tee several times, "And now on the tee, I heard several times, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus." You don't think that was kind of a (taking deep exhale) moment; God, I've got Jack Nicklaus on my six.
PAUL McGINLEY: We've got Ian Poulter. (Laughter).
Q. You spoke last night at the Q&A about Henrik Stenson's fantastic form and said that he was 85 per cent in the team, but you also mentioned in passing some of our big names and you described them as flat lining. Could you just expand on that? You said you weren't concerned about their form at this stage, and I understand Rory has said he's going to add a few more European Tour events in 2014; is that something you'd approve of?
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, my reference to flat lining is that they haven't reached the heights they have in previous years of winning majors and such, Rory being one example, but that's okay. I mean, we understand. Jack Nicklaus went through his whole career and there was large periods of his career where he doesn't win any majors and then he comes back into form and he wins a few again, and Tiger Woods as we talked about, similar. That's just part and parcel of being a professional golfer and part and parcel of playing at a very elite level like the guys do.
Yes, okay, we have not had the success we might have had at this time last year but having said that we just produced a U.S. Open Champion as a European in Justin Rose and now we've had the FedEx winner in Henrik Stenson. You know, when some guys don't have a run of form or somebody is there to pick up the mantle and go forward with it, that's the great thing about the quality of golf that we have on The European Tour nowadays. And I'm quite confident that this time next year, I'll have 12 players all playing very well and looking forward to another titanic battle.
Q. There's a lot of speculation that Tiger will be paired with Jordan Spieth at the Presidents Cup; is that a partnership that you would like to see and excites you?
TOM WATSON: I'll be watching with great interest The Presidents Cup to see how our team competes and who is paired with whom. But right now, I have no - I don't have any teams that I've already made up in my mind about who is going to play with whom. It's too early to tell. I want to see how the players are playing. I want to get a good understanding of the players themselves from direct conversations with them who they would like to play with. That's a long way in the future right now. I'm just formulating kind of the questions I'm going to be asking. I've done this before, and I basically am going to be doing pretty much the same thing again as far as how I handle the pairings, and that's - I think maybe that's a secret but I don't think it's rocket science of how you do it.
Q. Just wonder, though, you must be enthused by the fact that Jordan has played so well this year, and players like Billy Horschel have also come to the fore.
TOM WATSON: Jordan has played he played his way on to the tour, which is, first of all, a remarkable achievement. Now the way he's continued to play such good golf, everybody is looking at Jordan Spieth right now, and we'll see how he handles it. Again, your career, it can blossom and stay in bloom for a long time, and sometimes - and many of us have had it. In my career, I went into the doldrums, severe doldrums for nine years of my career and then finally found my golf swing again.
That's what happens in the game of golf. Paul's probably done the every golf has gone through stretches where they can't seem to find it, but those stretches where you can find it, and when you're playing your best, you wear them out. You go with it until you can't go any longer, and Jordan right now is on one of those stretches and I suspect because of his youth and he's learning the golf courses, he's only going to improve. But he will probably have problems in his career, just like anybody else does, and that will define him and define his character, how he deals with that.
Q. David made a good point about favorites; you seem to indicate that the world rankings has nothing to do with why your team wouldn't be favored. Can you tell us what the reasons why your team isn't favored, and Paul, can you agree that the European Team would be the favorites coming in right now?
TOM WATSON: The way I'm looking at it, we have an away game. Traditional sport, the home team has an advantage from a crowd standpoint and familiarity standpoint. I think we are going to go in as the underdogs, because of the past records of the Ryder Cup. But don't tell that to my players. My players are going to, I hope - I said in 1993, I hope the players are all playing well going into the matches. If you're lucky enough to be a captain on a team like that, then you have no worries at all. Where you have worries are where the players some of the players are not playing very well. You know, the Ryder Cup pressure does a lot of things to players and their ability sometimes. That's where picking the right players for the team comes into play for me. I've said a number of times, I want players with heart. I want people who can make that 5 footer when they have to make that 5 footer. That's what I'll be looking for and those are the types of players that win Ryder Cups.
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, to be honest, again, at the risk of repeating myself, I really see this as, again, boxing parlance, as two heavyweights going toe to toe, 15 rounds. That's the way I see it. As I've said many times, the margin between the two teams is so slight and so small, even though we have come out on the right side of winning, I think there's no doubt about it, we are going to have to play incredibly well to win this Ryder Cup. I know we are on home soil, but I know it's going to be a very formidable package that Tom are going to pose to us, and I know that that's what makes it so enthralling. That's what makes it so exciting. It's a real heavyweight contest, and as we saw in Medinah it came right down to the wire, and I have no reason to think it won't come right down to the wire again here in Gleneagles.
Q. No offense, but that's not really answering my question, but do you think you will or won't be the favorites a year from now?
PAUL McGINLEY: My answer is I think I have to say - I'd be lying if I didn't; any bookies will tell you that we are marginally favorites for the reasons that Tom gave: We are playing at home; we have had great success over the last decade in winning, and that's going to give us that little bit of an edge when it comes to the bookies, and I have no reason to argue with that. But the point I'm making is that -
TOM WATSON: The bookies can be wrong, though.
PAUL McGINLEY: Particularly Irish bookies are right on the money (laughter). To be honest. Margin between the two teams is so slight, the point I'm trying to make is, I would agree that, yes, playing at home is definitely a significant advantage. It probably does put us just ahead in terms of slight favorites but it's very, very marginal. I think it's a big heavy weight contest and that's the way it should be.
Q. Given the focus on match play experience and shot making in the Ryder Cup, how good an indicator is the money list and the Orders of Merit? If you had 12 picks, would the teams look significantly different?
PAUL McGINLEY: Oh, that's such a difficult question to answer. But, you know, one of the things again - and Tom has mentioned it a number of times, is form, and whether that form be playing in a PGA Tour event in America or playing The European Tour here, it's very significant as a professional golfer to have form going into a Ryder Cup. That form can come in so many different ways. Generally the guys who play great in Ryder Cups have a bit of form going into that Ryder Cup, so whatever way that form appears, will be very welcome, certainly. I'm going to have hopefully as many players on form, on a little bit of an up in their game, because we all go through up and downs. I would love to see, if possible, as many players on that little upward cycle on The European Team going into the match next year.
TOM WATSON: If you really look at it, the purist form of Ryder Cup would be no picks, no captain's picks, 12 players who qualify. That's the way I qualified my first two Ryder Cups, I think it was, or maybe three. All three of them, you had 12 players and no picks. Maybe that's the way it should go back to. I reduced my picks this year from four to three, and was thinking actually two, because I wanted the players who are playing, to get on The Ryder Cup Team, to have that as a goal. If they got there, then they have earned something very, very special. And maybe we should go back to no picks. What do you think about that, Paul?
PAUL McGINLEY: Different dynamic on the European side when we have so many players playing on the PGA Tour. So let's defer that one, thank you. (Laughter).
Q. This feels a bit like the Eurovision song contest, but I'll proceed. Question to Tom: Since 1993 when you were last involved with the Ryder Cup, I just wonder if you can give some idea of how this scale of the event itself has changed so completely? It's now almost a global event, perhaps marginally just behind the World Cups. It's a big, big event now in a way that it wasn't in 1993. Wonder if you can give an idea of how it's changed in your eyes?
TOM WATSON: Actually in 1993 the tide was turning against the Americans as far as their dominance in the Ryder Cup. Prior to adding the Europeans, everybody knows the history there that Americans dominated and it was kind of a yawner. Nobody really paid much attention to The Ryder Cup because they expected the Americans to win. The European side, with the addition of Seve and crew from Europe, it changed the dynamics dramatically, and the Europeans started to win.
Now they are winning a lot. It's really opened the eyes of the American public, because, hey, we are supposed to win this thing, and now, you don't hear that in America; we hope we win this thing. Paul says it's two heavyweights coming down to the wire. And as I said earlier, it's great theatre, it's wonderful theatre, and people, because they have seen this theatre several times where there's one point, one point, one point, it comes down to one of the last two or three matches, it just holds your attention and people love to watch that, and they expect that now from the Ryder Cup. And that's how it's changed. Before it was a yawner, and now it's something that people really look forward to come out and they will tune in.
MODERATOR: If there are no other questions, all that's left for me to say is thank everyone for their attendance today. Thank everyone who has been involved in the two days for all their help and assistance; largely to thank the two gentlemen on my right, we wish you all the very best for the next 12 months, and we look forward to welcoming you back here in September 2014. Thank you very much.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.