Teeing Off

U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Preparation

July 2nd, 2013 | golfing

Leading up to the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Perthshire, Scotland, U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson will periodically check in with PGA.com to talk about the various things going on in his life on the course, off the course and in his Ryder Cup preparations. This is the first installment of Watson's, 'Captain's Blog,' as told to PGA.com's T.J. Auclair.

As seems to always be the case, it was a very exciting end to the Masters. I have to say, I’m so pleased for Adam Scott.

There have been many players before Adam who have lost the big one and then never shown up again. Adam had two directions to go after last summer’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes – never show up again, or fight back and show the world what you’re made of.

Clearly, Adam showed what he’s made of with that fantastic birdie on the last hole, which he eventually needed to get in a playoff, and then his performance in the playoff. Following last year’s British Open, I had an empty stomach for 2-3 days for Adam after he made four straight bogeys to end it. Something like that hollows you out. It hollowed me out in 2009 when I couldn’t get the ball to stop on No. 18 at Turnberry. But, you bounce back. Your feelings after a tough defeat are eventually tempered by the victories you’ve had over the years.

I was really, truly happy for Adam that he was able to come back so quickly.

It was also nice to see Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer – both past Masters champions – make yet another run. Could someone over the age of 50 eventually win a major on the regular tour? If the race is short enough, then yes. I equate the way we are on the Champions Tour to quarter horses. We can go fast for a short distance. The guys on the regular tour are thoroughbreds. You can just see it. Jack Nicklaus, in fact, didn’t think he could win the Masters at age 46. He said it takes a young person’s nerves. 

One of the things I enjoyed during the Masters, which was new to me, was taking to Twitter.  I joined the social media world not long ago and I think it’s interesting. It has many pluses in that you can get instant information out there and make a point that people might want to hear. During the Masters I was able to tweet my thoughts about what was going on, give some tips and then answer questions from followers that weren’t even related to the Masters like, “what’s your favorite course?”

With the 2013 Masters behind us, we now have some actual points for U.S. players hoping to make the team for 2014, but to be honest, it’s entirely too early to even look at the points list. I really enjoy baseball and that would be like looking at a ball player’s batting average after three games. Is that indicative of how his entire season will play out? No way.

There is a lot that’s gone on behind the scenes with Ryder Cup planning in the last few months though.

Several processes have been put in place. While I haven’t made any final decisions, I’ve given a lot of thought to the people I’ll use as assistant captains, caddie liaisons and other people I’ll entrust with the workings of the Ryder Cup. The process is ongoing.

I’m formulating a list of names and asking questions about certain people privately. That goes part and parcel with getting to know the players and their abilities better. It’s an observational process that I’ll be going through with help from others. I’ll be asking anyone with inside information to give it to me. That’s the process. That’s what I’m going through.

This is a different way of being involved with golf than what I’ve been used to for many years. Now, I’m actively involved in paying attention to the outcome at tournaments for players other than myself.

Basically, it comes down to three things and these three things should come as no surprise. I’m sure Paul McGinley is looking at the same three things too:

1. I’m looking at players who have a lot of heart.

2. I’m looking at a player who can hold or even increase his lead under pressure.

3. I’m looking for a player who can play well in bad conditions.

That last one should be obvious, because those are likely to be the type of conditions we’ll face in Scotland.

THE CALL

December 14th, 2012 | golfing

It was truly a surprise...the phone call.  As I was walking a corn field in South Dakota with a few of the bravest souls I have ever known, seeking to flush a pheasant or two, it rang.  I was on the right flank of these Wounded Warriors as I took the call and kept walking trying to corral the roosters we had seen as we had unloaded from our bus.  The caller was Ted Bishop who told me he was the upcoming president of the PGA of America....as opposed to the PGA Tour...the association of golf professionals who teach us to play as well as run the golf shops all around America....and that he wanted to talk to me about the Ryder Cup.  Little did Ted know, I had been waiting for this call for almost two decades.

In 1992, I was approached by this same association (The PGA of America) and gratefully accepted their invitation to Captain the 1993 U.S. Ryder Cup Team.  That year we were very fortunate to eke out a narrow but extremely emotional win in England at The Belfry thanks to some real heroics of our players and a good break at the end of the singles matches on the final day.  That winning feeling was tremendous...the feeling of pure joy for the players who made it happen...for their families and friends...and for the rest of America.  As Captain I had little to do with the victory, but so much enjoyed being "inside the curtain" with the players during the entire process and watching them pull out the win, coming from behind.  I couldn't have been prouder of them if they all were my own brothers.  From that Sunday in the fall of 1993 until that day in November of 2011 in a South Dakota pheasant field, I had wanted to again have the chance to experience that exuberance and joy again.

As I told Ted I would call him back, that I had some business to attend to, I knew this was THE call.

Fast forward to this past week in New York.  The secret of my being Captain had already flown the coop as golf journalist Tim Rosaforte broke the story...once again..that I would be named the 2014 Ryder Cup Captain.  This was on Tuesday and we had planned the formal announcement on the Today Show with Matt Lauer early Thursday morning.  After Matt's short interview it was on to a press conference on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building, which in the honor of the 2014 Ryder Cup Matches', lit up their iconic building that night in red, white, and blue....which we observed as we walked to and from the Knicks/Lakers game at Madison Square Garden....what a treat!

The press conference gave me the opportunity to thank the PGA of America as well as speaking to the many issues associated with being Captain and especially to the main issue of our Team's decline in performance vs. the Europeans.  We certainly have had our clocks handed to us a few times as well as close losses in recent matches ....like this year's tremendous European comeback to victory.  I was asked what I might be able to do to effect a change in our team's fortunes and I thought about the simplest answer which made the most sense to me as a former Ryder Cup player and Captain....play better!

I also mentioned somewhat of an overlooked benefit which I believe gives the European team a real home field advantage.  The fact is that they play the Ryder Cup matches on courses where they play in yearly European PGA Tour tournaments.  This means that their Ryder Cup players have played the golf course many more times than we have and in varying wind and weather  conditions.  It will be the same in 2014 where the Gleneagles PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire, Scotland yearly hosts the Johnny Walker Championship.  When a golfer plays a course many times he gets to know it like the back of his hand....that...is an advantage that our Team in 2014 can overcome by "playing better"...again, it's as simple as that.

I am sincerely grateful to the PGA of America for tapping me on the shoulder once again to be Captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team.  I am humbled and honored.  I promise I will do everything in my power to help set the stage so that our players can win and live that same exact wonderful feeling I experienced in 1993 as Captain and in the three victorious Ryder Cup Teams on which I played.  There is no better feeling in golf...winning for your teammates, and most of all, your country.

MarTavious Adams and getting IT....

September 7th, 2010 | golfing

For the past seven years in September, I have had the pleasure of playing in one of my favorite tournaments, at probably my favorite golf course in the world - Pebble Beach. You might expect it to be either the AT&T in the winter or the US Open this past summer at Pebble, but it's neither. During these years Pebble has hosted The First Tee Open with the generous help of sponsors, Home Care & Hospice and Wal-Mart. It is without a doubt one of the highlights of The Champions Tour for me.

This past week 78 juniors selected from over 200 First Tee programs from all over the country came to Pebble Beach to play with the old guys like me, courtesy of The First Tee and its sponsors.  What makes this so special is they are selected based on both golf skill and their understanding of the nine Core Values of the First Tee, or in simpler terms, getting IT.  [The nine Core Values of The First Tee are: Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility, Perseverance, Courtesy and Judgment.]  Their enthusiasm and smiles, their seriousness in the competition, their respect and manners all combined to prove that these youths of America get IT. 

Where they got IT in part was from The First Tee programs in their local communities. With the fun of golf being the hook, these young people came to a variety of First Tee facilities, like the Blue River Golf Academy and Learning Center in my home town of Kansas City, to learn the game as well as being taught the program's Nine Core Values. Our community built a three hole golf course which pre-dated the beginnings of The First Tee in 1997 in a joint City/private venture on public ground which is used by the First Tee youngsters as well as other golfers not in the program.  Three holes to get the beginners started in the game is all it takes. This facility and a commitment by a host of teachers and volunteers to help these youngsters learn the Core Values of the program has been, in the vernacular, very successful at getting IT gotten.

At Pebble Beach last Wednesday night, all the kids and most of us pros got together to have dinner and to hear a variety of people talk about each of the nine Core Values. I had the honor to speak of the core value Honesty, which gave me the opportunity to ask the room a question, "Raise your hand if you know the difference between right and wrong.” Of course all of us raised our hands. I followed by speaking to the fundamental truth about honesty, and that it makes one's life a lot simpler. Not having to remember the story you made up to your parents or having to live with yourself after not taking the penalty shot when you accidentally moved your golf ball which no one but you saw happen. The cover up is a lot worse than the truth...even though the truth hurts at times. Other fine speakers described the other eight Core Values with great passion. Many of the adults who attended this event, both sponsors and parents, said this was the pinnacle of the week for them...and I agree.

It was at this First Tee dinner that I first met MarTavious Adams. With a firm handshake and a broad smile he introduced himself to me, immediately confirming to me that the program was working. Confidence and Respect showed through his smile and manners. I couldn't wait to see how he handled the pressure of the tournament with me as his partner...and he certainly showed me!

We started play at Del Monte Golf Course, the easier of the two courses, and he proved right away he could play. I didn't score very well (a 73) but with his good play we managed a 68 as a team. On the par 5 ninth he hit it past me by 30 yards after I hit a good drive...ahhh, youth!

Round 2 was the cut round: the Pro/Junior teams were reduced to the low 22 teams.  We had to shoot a good score to play together on Sunday, and we did as we shot a 66 on the tougher course, Pebble, to make the cut by one.

Then came Sunday and the young man showed what he was made of. He started with a six foot birdie at the first, followed by a great chip-in for birdie at the third. Then came the fourth, the shortest hole at Pebble, but one full of hazards both right and left. After getting a great break with a poor tee shot which headed right toward the OB and Pacific Ocean, his ball flew through and over some trees and ended up in the rough some 180 yards short of the smallest of all the greens at Pebble. To hit his ball onto this uphill green would be a monumental task even for the likes of a Phil Mickelson. I would have had to hit my absolute best shot to get it on the green. I intently watched as he made a great swing with a long iron, the ball launched powerfully in the air. As it landed on the green stopping some 45 feet above the hole, right next to where I hit my gap wedge, I thought to myself he had just hit his career shot. Even after that great shot he faced a lightning fast downhill putt which he knocked it in with perfect speed as I struggled to two putt for my par. This was one of the greatest birdies I have ever witnessed as I told him he had to be the first person ever to make a birdie from where his tee ball ended up.

MarTavious (or Magic as his friends call him) wasn't done yet. He holed a 30-footer for birdie on the short par 3 seventh to make it four birdies in the first seven holes! He added another chip-in par on the sixteenth and we finished with a 66 to end up in the top 10 -- and a great finish to an inspiring week.

Now, for the rest of the story...the most important part.

MarTavious lives in Atlanta with his mother, Latoisha, and younger brother, Kiante, near East Lake CC. He goes to school at Decatur High where he is a junior. Being short on means, four years ago his mother was reluctant to have him enroll in East Lake's First Tee program, but MarTavious persisted.  His mother finally allowed him to join the program, showing he already had Perseverance.

East Lake CC is known for both its most distinguished member, the great Bobby Jones, and as the venue of the PGA Tour Championship.  Bobby played countless rounds there, and as the story goes, sadly Bobby retired there one day after hitting a very poor drive -- which led him to discover he had an incurable neurological disease, which eventually cost him his life.

But what East Lake is recently known for is Tom Cousins and his far reaching vision which has turned into reality for this community.  Mr. Cousins efforts at revitalizing the community with jobs, schools and The First Tee program are the reason MarTavious and many more youngsters like him are getting the right start in life. Now there is a choice where there was none before...a chance for the young people to learn about a better way of living their lives.  The plan is coming together. Mr. Cousins plan is succeeding. And the community is getting IT.

Thanks Mr. Cousins and The First Tee, for giving MarTavious, his brothers and sisters, and their community a hand up.

And thanks Magic for showing me a shot of a lifetime.
 

Dustin, Jackie, and The First Tee

August 24th, 2010 | golfing

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of listening to two young First Tee participants speak in front of an adult group of First Tee supporters here in Kansas City. They spoke of who they were and how The First Tee has positively affected their lives. For those who are unfamiliar with The First Tee, it is an organization which introduces youngsters to golf and to the ‘Nine Core Values’ associated with the game, which not so incidentally are the tenets of living a wholesome life. Values such as Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, and Honesty are routinely used in teaching the game to some 2500 young people in our community's program, run by a wonderfully committed man, Pat Zuk.

After listening to Sierra and Jimmy speak, it was my turn to address our program's supporters.  I spoke to the core value of doing the right thing even when you are negatively affected by it...which brought me to Dustin Johnson's rules violation on the final hole during this year's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, a beautifully sculpted test of golf by the infamous designer/architect Pete Dye. I think it one of the most beautiful golf courses I have ever had the pleasure to play, with over 1000 bunkers to both frame the exquisite views of Lake Michigan and put the golfer in deep trouble if he or she strays off line just a little bit.

With over a thousand bunkers, the PGA decided that even if the bunkers were walked through by the gallery or driven through by carts, they would still be considered a normal bunker or "hazard," which has the rules restriction that the golfer may not touch the sand behind the ball with the clubhead before the ball is hit. This restriction applies to a water hazard as well...you can't touch the ground or water inside the marked water hazard with your clubhead as you address the ball. This is called "grounding" of the club in the USGA's rule book.

On the last hole of the tournament, barring a playoff, Dustin sprayed his drive off line into a patch of sand where the gallery had obviously been walking. When he played his shot, he "grounded" or touched the sand with his club at address before he hit the shot, which according to the posted rules in the locker room, first tee, and written on the "Local Rules" sheet given to the golfer before he teed off in the first round, explicitly said that ALL the sand bunkers or sandy areas on the golf course were considered "hazards" and so "grounding" the clubhead was not allowed.

When a rules official confronted Dustin with this rules violation, he was obviously disappointed but understood he committed a rules infraction and took it like a man, saying he hadn't read the rules and it was his fault for the violation. I truly believe that after losing the final round lead at this year's US Open and now PGA setback, he will be better off, as these defeats will steel his resolve. Time will tell but expect to see and hear a lot more of Dustin in the future. He will win majors.

Coincidentally I have made the same mistake Dustin made. I venture to guess every pro golfer has made some sort of rules mistake costing him or her shots and a smaller paycheck.

Playing the second round of the 2009 Masters on the famous dogleg left par 5 13th, I spun my third shot off the front of the green into the long (for Augusta!), but manicured grass rough just over the creek. I proceeded to hit a great lofted shot to within inches for an easy par...or so I thought until a rules official called my attention to the fact that I hit the shot from within the water hazard. I had taken my normal two practice swings and hit the turf each time, "grounding" my clubhead inside the hazard....a forgetful and costly mistake as I had to add the penalty of two more shots to my 5 for an ugly 7. I missed the 36 hole cut by more than two shots so it wasn't nearly as costly as Dustin's error in this year's PGA, but still I had to own up to my own stupidity...I knew better... but wasn't thinking.

Golf's most heartbreaking rules violation occurred during the final round of the 1957 US Women's Open at the always tough Winged Foot in New York. The great Hawaiian Jackie Pung won the tournament by one shot over Betsy Rawls, but was disqualified for signing an incorrect score card.

Golf's rules say the golfer must confirm each individual hole's correct score for the round on a scorecard kept by the other golfer. Both she and Betty Jameson, who kept Jackie's score, recorded 5's on the fourth hole when they both actually scored 6's. Even though they both recorded their proper total scores for the 18 holes, both were disqualified. It was the most profound loss for Jackie, as I always felt so bad for her anytime I had the pleasure to be in her company...to have won the most important tournament in golf and have it taken away by a seemingly insignificant rule of golf.

But this heartbreaking story is a good lesson for us all. Golf, like life, isn't a fair game. The First Tee is out there on playgrounds, in schools, and on golf courses all over the world teaching kids about golf and life. Support them if you can...it will pay big rewards for our kid's future...and teach them a game for a lifetime.