By Vartan Kupelian, Champions Tour Insider
The expectations seldom vary in professional golf. The objective is to win. For the game’s champions, the intentions and motivations always remain the same.
Tom Watson is just as dedicated to his goal as he has ever been.
“My expectations, no, they’re not too much different,” Watson said last week at the Senior PGA Championship. “I'm going out there with the idea that I'm going to play the type of game that will get close enough to win this tournament. And whether physically I'll be able to do that, I don't know. But that's the attitude.
“I guess I got a little Arnold Palmer attitude in me. Jack (Nicklaus) was talking about Arnold and said, ‘The great thing about Arnold, I love him to death. He still thinks he can do it. He goes out there and may not be able to, but he still thinks he can do it. You better have a lot of that in you. It's not a bad thing to have and in fact it's a darn good thing to have in you. Because if you think you can't do it … "
Watson didn’t need to finish the sentence. The message was complete.
All of the great champions always believed they could do it. Nicklaus didn’t tee it up at the Masters in 1986 just to have fun and reminisce with his son/caddie, Jackie. Nicklaus, at age 46, teed it up to win.
One of Watson’s goals as captain of the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team is to find players who possess that mindset.
“I've been following the PGA TOUR quite a bit,” Watson said. “Looking at the younger players in particular. I've been asking questions of some of the guys out there: Who are the best young players? I asked it at the Masters when I was around them.
“I said, ‘Who do you really like out here?’ And I got a list of them that I'm looking at. Because I truly believe that there will be two or three players that have never been on the Ryder Cup team before. I think that there are that many good young players out there who will come to the fore next year and get in the top nine, and get on the team. I think that they can do that.”
Watson has requested a change in the format by which the captain’s picks are made, opting to choose three wild cards for next year’s biennial competition against Europe. That’s one less than the U.S. captain has had in the three most recent Ryder Cups. Watson said his purpose of having nine qualifiers on points, instead of eight, is to give players the opportunity to control their own destiny.
Watson doesn’t rule out selecting a Ryder Cup “rookie” as a captain’s pick. In the past, that’s been avoided as captains on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have preferred to place the responsibility in the hands of previously tested veteran players.
“Who knows, I may pick one of them,” he said. “You like young blood. You like people that can putt. You also like, as I said, the three things that I want: I want heart, somebody that can play with the lead, and somebody who can play in bad conditions. We're looking at guys that can make that 5‑footer every time that they need it. Every time.”
Those are traits in which Watson is well-versed. They characterized him in his heyday.
The 2014 Ryder Cup will be played in Gleneagles, Scotland, in the final week of September. Anybody who knows anything about Scotland knows that the weather can be unpredictable – and nasty – at any time. And anybody who knows anything about golf knows that Watson is the best bad-weather golfer ever. He loves playing in wind and rain, and that has always given him the edge in those conditions. His five victories in the Open Championship are not a coincidence.
In his prime, Watson was a fearless putter. He charged lag putts without trepidation because he routinely made those 5-footers coming back.
Finally, the third of the traits he will command: Playing with heart. Few have ever played with more heart, spirit and courage than Watson. It’s one of the main reasons – if not the No. 1 reason – why he was selected once again to captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team. More than any other ingredient, there will be a need for huge doses of belief – and heart – in Gleneagles for the Americans after their shocking defeat last year at Medinah.