The PGA of America went against the grain this week, changing course and naming golf legend Tom Watson as the 2014 American Ryder Cup captain. Watson will be a repeat captain, leading 12 players significantly younger and who are not his Tour contemporaries, as has been the trend with recent captains.
One of those players on the team will likely be Tiger Woods, who's been the target of criticism from Watson in the past. Watson did not hold back when discussing Woods's on-course behavior, comments that the 14-time major winner surely hasn't forgotten. But Woods greeted news of Thursday's announcement with a complimentary statement:
"I'd like to congratulate Tom Watson on his selection as Ryder Cup captain. I think he's a really good choice. Tom knows what it takes to win, and that's our ultimate goal. I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the 2014 United States team."
Of course, Watson is revered and respected in Europe as much as he is stateside. He captured five British Opens during the apex of his career, four of which came in Scotland, site of the 2014 Ryder Cup. Lee Westwood, a mainstay on the European team for almost two decades, weighed in on the selection of Watson with a text to Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman:
"I think he's a great appointment. He will have the respect of all the players on both sides. He has a wealth of experience and is a proven winner."
Many American players took the news with raised eyebrows, expressing frustration with Larry Nelson being passed over yet again. Nelson has been a captain candidate for 20 years, and this was likely his last serious shot at leading the American side. Mark O'Meara was fairly critical of the decision to pass over Nelson and go with a repeat, speaking with Todd Lewis of the Golf Channel:
"To be honest with you, Tom's been a captain and I was a little disappointed -- not that Tom Watson can't do a fabulous job being the Ryder Cup captain. It's just that I truly believe, in my opinion, Larry Nelson, who's won three major championships -- two PGAs, a U.S. Open -- my vote was hopefully going to be cast for him if I had any say. It is what it is and we'll be behind Tom Watson. I think once you've been a Ryder Cup captain, it's nice to see some of the other guys who have some impact in Ryder Cups, let them be a captain too."
Watson is the first repeat captain in 25 years, with Jack Nicklaus serving as the last two-time leader. Watson will lead a team trying to break a 20-year drought on European soil, with the last win coming under his captaincy at The Belfry in 1993.