The continuing furor over Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup captaincy

The furor over Tom Watson’s imperial Ryder Cup captaincy rages on. No less that three very detailed articles have come out with insider details that paint a fairly dismal picture of Watson’s “Gut” management system.

Much of it begins with Phil Mickelson’s veiled criticism of Watson by extolling the virtues of Paul Azinger’s pod system he successfully used at Valhalla. It was the harbinger of modern management theory come to the Ryder Cup. The Sunday night media session included: Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Watson, all sitting on the dais.

Some say that Mickelson’s comments were very calculating, but it didn’t come off that way when you read the transcript. As I said in my first post about all of this, it came across as being expansively responsive to a reporter’s specific question about Azinger’s system. Here is exactly what was said: 

Q. Anyone that was on the team at Valhalla, can you put your finger on what worked in 2008 and what hasn’t worked since?

PHIL MICKELSON: There were two things that allow us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger did, and one was he got everybody invested in the process. He got everybody invested in who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod, who — when they would play, and they had a great leader for each pod. In my case, we had Ray Floyd, and we hung out together and we were all invested in each other’s play. We were invested in picking Hunter that week; Anthony Kim and myself and Justin were in a pod, and we were involved on having Hunter be our guy to fill our pod. So we were invested in the process.

And the other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us, you know, how we were going to go about doing this. How we were going to go about playing together; golf ball, format, what we were going to do, if so-and-so is playing well, if so-and-so is not playing well, we had a real game plan.

Those two things helped us bring out our best golf. And I think that, you know, we all do the best that we can and we’re all trying our hardest, and I’m just looking back at what gave us the most success. Because we use that same process in The Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.

I thought he tempered any criticism that could be construed as critical of Watson when he alluded to the last three Ryder Cups. That is, it wasn’t all Watson. But the reporter didn’t take it that way:

Q. That felt like a pretty brutal destruction of the leadership that’s gone on this week.

PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, I’m sorry you’re taking it that way. I’m just talking about what Paul Azinger did to help us play our best. It’s certainly — I don’t understand why you would take it that way. You asked me what I thought we should do going forward to bring our best golf out and I go back to when we played our best golf and try to replicate that formula.

Q. That didn’t happen this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: Uh (pausing) no. No, nobody here was in any decision. So, no.

There was an intervening question and three answers that had to do with how well the rookies had performed. But then it came back to the management system again with a question about what Watson thought about Mickelson’s comments. Watson seemed to take the comments in stride:

Q. Can you tell us what you think of what Phil said about Paul Azinger?

TOM WATSON: I had a different philosophy as far as being a captain of this team. You know, it takes 12 players to win. It’s not pods. It’s 12 players. And I felt — I based my decisions on — yes, I did talk to the players, but my vice captains were very instrumental in making decisions as to whom to pair with. I had a different philosophy than Paul. I decided not to go that way.

But I did have most of them play in the practice rounds together who played most of the time in the matches. I think that was the proper thing to do. Yes, I did mix-and-match a little bit from there, but again, you have to go with the evolution of the playing of the match and see who is playing the best and who to play with whom, and that’s what I did.

Q. Do you think that Phil was being disloyal, because it sounded like that?

TOM WATSON: Not at all. He has a difference of opinion. That’s okay. My management philosophy is different than his.

And that seemed to politely be the end of it. Little did I know.

What prompted this post were the three articles I came across today. They all emphasize Mickelson’s harsh criticism of Watson which doesn’t necessary come across in the verbatim transcript of any of Mickelson’s answers. That’s why I include it here as a preface. But each of them insist that it was intended as critical with Watson sitting in the room with the third one detailing exactly why. That one was more about the facts in the room rather than just opinion.

All three are extremely well done. I read them in this order, but if you only have time for one, I recommend the last one.

Rex Hoggard, The Golf Channel, “Watson lost his locker room well before presser

Jim McCabe, Golf Week, “Right or wrong, Mickelson forces Ryder changes

Shane Ryan, Golf Digest, “Oh, Captains: How Tom Watson Lost His Players While Paul McGinley Won a Ryder Cup

Unless some new twist or turn arises, this is probably all I’ll have to say about it. I think it’s far more interesting to see the very best efforts of two, well-intentioned human beings and how one of them worked spectacularly and the other didn’t, than it is to pillory the one whose didn’t.

We don’t get very far when it’s all about trying to make somebody “wrong.” Watson feels bad enough as it is.

This entry was posted in Consciousness, Expectations, Failure, Inside The Ropes, Mastery, Ryder Cup and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The continuing furor over Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup captaincy

  1. John Shanholt says:

    I agree. The media is simply trying to create a controversy where one should not exist. To those who suggest that Watson did a poor job, I ask: “Would a pod system have prevented Rose & Stenson from shooting 10 birdies in a row? Or Garcia from holing a long bunker shot? Would another Captain really have prevented our guys from missing some short putts?”