Here was a man who had enough passion flowing through his veins to take on the Europeans all by himself.
However, even for a goliath of the game it was seen as a brave call in other quarters because his status amongst his players and a loyal legion of Scottish fans will only take you to the first tee box on the first day. After that, Watson would have to prove himself all over again and he was comprehensively defeated by a younger man — European captain Paul McGinley.
From the very off Watson stood out as a lonely figure head — someone who perhaps hadn’t realised the true size of his task at hand. The Ryder Cup had moved on significantly from his playing days, and even from his captaincy at the Belfry in 1993. Watson, it seemed, was stuck in a romantic time warp and there was little that his veteran vice captains Ray Floyd, Andy North and Steve Stricker could do to stem the European momentum.
Contrast that to the passion McGinley brought to his captaincy from the moment he was appointed. Over the past 18 months, he meticulously prepared for every little detail and it manifested itself most in the appetite his players had for victory.
McGinley’s ambition was to deconstruct his more illustrious opponent Watson bit by bit and that started at his press conferences where he oozed confidence with his well thought-out answers for everything. Such confidence and authority would have quickly filtered back to the rest of his team.
In order to win the 40th Ryder Cup match, McGinley needed to have a strategy for his team that was sound and yet flexible. That would have meant ruffling egos amongst many of the European players who could not play every game but if there was an individual rancour, then it certainly wasn’t evident.
Ryder Cups are nearly always won by fine margins — a missed putt or a pivotal moment here and there but all week, I felt there was only ever going to be one outcome to this match. Europe had home advantage, the form players and as long as they stayed grounded and focused, they would prevail.
That they did was largely down to McGinley’s preparation of his team for the all-important foursomes matches, which Europe won by a total of 7 to 1. Foursome victories have largely favoured the US team in recent years and McGinley, being aware of this, had a strategy in place. The first was in the guise of his vice captain Sam Torrance who was tasked with mentoring players coming off the course and going on in the afternoons.
The second was the leadership role he placed on the shoulders of Lee Westwood with Jamie Donaldson and Graeme McDowell with Victor Dubuisson. Both pairings collectively secured points but under the veterans’ guidance, the rookies also secured the much-needed experience to be also effective in the singles yesterday.
If McGinley had a detailed plan, then it seems the same cannot be said for Watson. Many of his decisions throughout the week weren’t tactically sound.
He does deserve some credit for coming up with two inspired pairings involving three rookies: Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker-Rickie Fowler, but the benching of Spieth-Reed for Friday’s afternoon session was a huge own goal. Form counts and had Tom done his homework, he should have known that hot rookies tend to be very dependable winners in Ryder Cup matches.
With Europe leading by four points heading into yesterday’s singles, it would have taken a minor miracle for them to have been beaten, and so it proved. Although there were early flutters, it was wonderful to witness the composure shown by Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose in the early matches. That Graeme was put out first demonstrated once again McGinley’s authority and faith in his team.
In the end, victory for Europe only justified McGinley’s earlier assertions that “just because you are a big name it doesn’t automatically mean that you are going to be a great captain”. McGinley out-thought and outfought his more esteemed rival. The Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson partnership was inspired and at every stage, Europe looked hungrier for victory. As a team, they took no backward step.
As for the Americans, they now have some serious thinking to do and a number of observations should be made:
1. Form counts and Watson left two young form players behind him in Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk when picking his team for Gleneagles.
2. Rookies can make a very positive impact on the final result so don’t be afraid to pick them. They are more enthusiastic and carry no scars or baggage.
3. If the US is serious about winning the Ryder Cup on a regular basis in the future, they cannot afford to appoint a captain who cannot relate fully to his players. Sorry Tom. Reputation counts only so much. Meticulous preparation counts even more.
4. Give the PGA Tour some ownership of the Ryder Cup. That way the tournament scheduling prior to the Ryder Cup might be easier on the US players.
5. It’s easy to want something. The US now needs to appoint an Azinger-like captain again, someone who will create the necessary structure, focus, energy and purpose that can help the US realise their goal of winning the Ryder Cup consistently.