Was Tom Watson the right choice?
Was Tom Watson the right choice to captain the Ryder Cup for the United States? From the time he was selected, I thought he was a great choice. Intelligent, articulate, forceful, charismatic, and a leader, are the traits that you look for in a captain. His reputation in golf is stellar, his courage unquestioned. He was the last captain to win the Ryder Cup on foreign soil and seemed a great choice to lead an American team to victory in Scotland.
Now we are hearing all sorts of stories about his failures, lack of communication, poor judgment, and stubbornness. Phil Mickelson was the first to state this publicly, but all indications are that his comments echo the sentiments of other members of the US squad. As the elder statesman of the American team, Phil can and should let his feelings and opinions be heard. Should he have voiced them right after the competition or in such a way as to publicly criticize and embarrass his captain and lay the defeat on Tom Watson’s leadership? That’s a debate for another time.
Professional golfers are independent contractors. They don’t play a team sport. They pick their own schedules, arrange their own travel, where they stay, what caddy to use, when to eat, when to practice, etc. They must rely on their own judgment to make decisions on and off the golf course. All the players in the Ryder Cup are very skillful and successful. They also have very large egos and a great trust in their own decisions. Successful people believe in themselves and with that sometimes comes with an over inflated view of their self-worth. I played one year on the PGA Tour; I have been friends with and played many rounds with some great players. My experience is that all have well established strong egos; however the real smart ones don’t let their possible inflated view of themselves manifest itself into their personality. Trust me, there are some boneheads and jerks on the PGA Tour, but turn the camera on and they are the nicest people. Phil Mickelson is nice on television and nice in person. He is very opinionated and positive. This makes for an interesting personality and intriguing golf game.
That said; being a captain of a bunch of super-rich, independent, strong willed talented golfers is a bit like trying to herd a group of cats. It really can’t be done. Some can do it better than others, but there will be problems.
Leaders over history have been successful with differing personality and leadership qualities. General George Patton knew what he wanted and forged ahead. He didn’t care what his troops thought, he just won. His troops hated and loved him. Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys was this type of leader. Tom Watson is being characterized as this type of captain, a bit out of touch, always right, and not asking feedback from his players. If we had won, this wouldn’t have been talked about. I don’t know Tom Watson personally, but I know people that do, and they know him as a thoughtful and caring person. I can only assume that he felt this leadership style was the best for this group of players.
Phil Mickelson wanted a more Paul Azinger type of captain. Paul is very sure of himself and his actions. He brought a type of swagger to his captaincy. But more so, he brought a community aspect to the team. He got everyone to “buy in” to the team concept. He got people involved in the selection process and pairing procedure. Azinger as a professional golfer wasn’t universally loved by all, but as a captain he got everyone’s attention and respect. Paul McGinley was this type of leader. Up to now, I haven’t heard a negative word yet from his players. In the NFL the prototype for a football coach is the strong dictatorial disciplinarian type. This might be changing with the emergence of a new type of coach. Pete Carroll was highly successful at USC and now with the Seattle Seahawks. He gets feedback from players, makes the work environment interesting and fun, has personal relationships with players, and gets them to “buy in” with the overall goals of the organization. Generally players want to and love to play for Pete. Again a tough thing to do with high-priced spoiled athletes. However, ultimately the final decisions are the coach’s or in the Ryder Cup case, the captain. In either case, both styles of leadership require a positive decision maker.
The PGA of America, who chooses the Ryder Cup captain, will now have a template to work with in choosing the next leader. Why they decided to stray from a proven formula is anybody’s guess. Was Tom Watson a bad choice? No, initially, but in hindsight, probably. Did he make some bad decisions? Yes, I think so. His captain picks were uninspiring and his pairing lacked insight. The benching of Reed and Spieth after a solid inspirational first round was head scratching. Would he do things differently, if given a “mulligan?” Yes, I’m sure he would. Would he be more consulting and receive more feedback? Maybe not, it might not be his style. But in the final analysis, if might not have mattered who Tom Watson put out to play and in what order. He could’ve done it perfectly and still the European’s would’ve won. I watched all the matches and I didn’t see any American just mail it in and didn’t try his best. I feel the better team won, but I wish our players felt better about the experience, their effort and with a leadership that could’ve given them a better chance to succeed.