HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Tom Watson wants to take a closer look at American prospects for the Ryder Cup, so the U.S. captain is playing in the RBC Heritage this week.
Watson won at Harbour Town Golf Links in 1979 and 1982 at the height of his run as one of the game’s best. But these days the 64-year-old Watson is walking locker rooms and watching scoreboards as he seeks the type of gritty U.S. players necessary to compete at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland this September.
“I am doing what I am supposed to be doing as Ryder Cup captain and getting to know the players, getting to watch them,” Watson said Wednesday, a day before he tees it up alongside Masters sensation Jordan Spieth and the 2012 Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III.
“There’s a lot of things that go into choosing the three picks that I have at my disposal,” he said. “And I’m going to try and get as much relevant information as possible.”
It looked as if the United States would earn the cup under Love’s watch, carrying a 10-6 lead into the final day’s singles matches. Instead, Europe won eight of the 12 pairings and halved another at Medinah Country Club to claim the Ryder Cup for the fifth time in the past six meetings.
Enter Watson, part of three U.S. victories in 1977, 1981 and 1983. He also was captain in 1993 when the Americans defended their title at The Belfry in England in the United States’ last victory on European soil.
He’s done a lot of organizing and now hopes to get up-close views of players who’ll qualify for the squad and candidates for his three captain’s picks.
Watson played nine holes at Augusta National last week with Patrick Reed, currently fifth in the Ryder Cup points standings. He’ll have at least 36 holes to watch Spieth, who rose to No. 4 on the American list with his runner-up finish to current points leader Bubba Watson at the Masters.
Watson already likes the 20-year-old Spieth, feeling the two have similar styles in their approaches to the game.
“I have to laugh, sometimes he gets up there and he hits a bad shot, and (says), `That’s real close,’ about 40 yards off the line,” Watson said. “That’s exactly what I would say.”
Watson plans to attend several more PGA Tour events this season, including the Memorial next month, the Greenbrier Classic in July and the last two majors, the British Open and the PGA Championship.
Love, the last U.S. captain, said now is the time players in the running realize the captain is watching and evaluating their play and style. Love remembers at the Masters that year contender Mark Wilson cut in front of him at a practice round, turned around and said, “I probably shouldn’t have done that, should I?”
“Nope, shouldn’t have done that,” Love playfully responded.
Love, who plans to play much of the tour season after dealing with injuries the past two years, has offered to help Watson and assistant captains Raymond Floyd and Andy North with anything they need.
Watson surely will hear from Love as the two watch Spieth take on Harbour Town.
“It’ll be fun,” Love said. “If you noticed, Jordan is ready to go. He doesn’t need much help except to show up on time.”
Watson would not answer when asked to speculate on how much Tiger Woods would have to play following his injury to warrant a pick on the team.
“Tiger I hope just basically gets well and starts playing well again,” Watson said. “If he gets well and is playing well, I’ll pick him.”
Watson loves experience. He remembered in 1993 when the golfers 11 through 17 on the points list were struggling — “Playing cruddy,” Watson says — at the end and he chose steady veterans Floyd and Lanny Wadkins, who proved essential to the winning effort.
Watson says his experience with Ryder Cup success matters much more than his age at these impromptu job interviews.
“Age doesn’t have any relevance at all,” he said. “I can relate to the players through the game, how the game is played, how they’re playing. That’s what we’re going to be talking about.”
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