Watson to bring 'instant credibility' to captaincy

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Brandt Snedeker played in his first Ryder Cup in 2012.
December 13, 2012
Brian Wacker

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The first time Brandt Snedeker received a call from Tom Watson was following the 2008 Masters. The 27-year-old Tennessean had briefly tied for the lead on the second hole of the final day, only to come crashing back to reality with a 77 that sent him from wide-eyed to teary-eyed.

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In the aftermath, Watson was one of the first people to reach out to Snedeker, offering not only condolences but words of wisdom as they discussed various shots from that afternoon.

The two have been good friends ever since, so few were happier than Snedeker when Watson was announced on Thursday as the next captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team for the 2014 matches at Gleneagles in Scotland.

"Obviously they were looking outside the box, given our recent failures," said Snedeker, who this year was on the other end of the largest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history. Snedeker, a captain's pick of Davis Love III, went 1-2-0 for the week. "They wanted to get a guy who's had success and commands respect and I think that's why they went this way; to get the U.S. to rally around him as a way to rejuvenate the American side."

Given Watson's resume that should be easy, at least on paper.

The 63-year-old played in four Ryder Cups, compiling a stellar 9-3-1 mark that helped the U.S. win three of those and tie in a fourth. Watson also captained the U.S. to a 15-13 victory over Europe in 1993 at The Belfry (the last by the U.S. on its opponents' soil).

Five of Watson's eight career majors have come at the British Open, and he has won the Senior British Open three times.

But the selection goes a lot deeper than Watson's resume, at least in Snedeker's eyes.

"Tom is one of the best competitors of all time," he said. "He's going to bring that fire and that unwillingness to lose and that mental strength that's defined his career."

That career has spanned more than five decades with the Hall-of-Famer amassing 39 wins on the PGA TOUR -- 11th all-time -- and 14 more on the Champions Tour.

Three years ago, Watson, just two months shy of his 60th birthday, nearly became golf's oldest major champion, leading for much of the British Open at Turnberry before missing an 8-foot putt on the 72nd hole and eventually losing in a playoff to Stewart Cink.

Watson's success and popularity in Scotland -- all but one of his British Open victories came there, including his famous 1977 Duel in the Sun with Jack Nicklaus -- also played no small part in his selection to lead the 2014 team.

"It gives him instant credibility," Snedeker said of Watson, who will be the oldest captain in U.S. history. "They'll treat him as one of their own. It'll be an interesting dynamic."

It will also be a challenge for the U.S., which has lost seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, including five of the last six.

This year, the Americans took a 10-6 lead to the final day only to lose 14.5-13.5. The result still stings for many from the U.S. team.

"It was the toughest loss I ever had to deal with in my career," Snedeker said. "We didn't see it coming. To be that close and watch it go the other way was really difficult. I still think about it, and I'm still upset about it.

"We just ran into a team that seemed to chip-in and hole more putts than we did on the last day. We didn't play our best and they played their best. There's no one person to point a finger at."

Now the U.S. will point to Watson to try to help win back the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008. And the possibility of playing for his boyhood idol has at least Snedeker excited.

"It would be special," Snedeker said. "It would be like being on a team led by Jack (Nicklaus) or Arnold (Palmer). These are guys we've looked up to our whole career. It never crossed my mind it would happen. It would be awesome."

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