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Watson as Ryder Cup captain breaks from norm

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Little more than a month ago, Ted Bishop began his two-year term as PGA of America president.

Since that first day on the job, Nov. 10, he has traveled coast-to-coast, virtually nonstop, fulfilling a multitude of executive responsibilities.

Recent travels included an obligation in Augusta, Ga., the day before Thanksgiving. That was followed by a meeting with more than two dozen PGA staff and committee leaders at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, where he also is director of golf and general manager.

Shortly thereafter, he flew to Los Angeles for a weekend of PGA meetings, followed by a flight from L.A. straight to West Palm Beach, Fla., for a week of planning meetings with top PGA staff in advance of the unveiling of the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup Team captain.

After catching his breath briefly in Franklin during the weekend, he departed Monday for New York City for three days of preparation for Thursday’s big Ryder Cup announcement.

On a frigid Thursday morning, standing next to Matt Lauer just outside NBC Studios, Bishop introduced Tom Watson to the world as the U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

“The first month has just been crazy,” said Bishop, whose first 34 days culminated in what will be one of the signature moments — if not the signature moment — of his term: the historic selection of Watson as Ryder Cup captain.

Watson, who will be 65 when the 2014 Ryder Cup is played at Gleneagles in Scotland, represents a break from tradition. The PGA generally picks a captain in his mid- to late 40s who is a former major winner.

Watson is an eight-time major champion. But at 63, he is the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history. He also is the first repeat captain since Jack Nicklaus in 1987.

Bishop first pitched the idea of Watson to PGA officials just more than a year ago, while serving as vice president. His objective was to find an inspiring, insightful leader who could halt Team USA’s losing tradition of the past two decades.

European teams have won seven of the past nine Ryder Cups, including the 2012 event at Medinah Country Club in Chicago.

Bishop pitched Watson because of his iconic stature, the fact he’s still a competitive player (he came within a missed par putt of winning the 2009 British Open) and because he was Ryder Cup captain the most recent time the U.S. won in Europe, at the Belfry in England in 1993.

Moreover, of Watson’s eight major championships, five were British Opens.

“It breaks the norm of what we’ve been doing with Ryder Cup captains,” Bishop said. “The fact of the matter is, when we go to Gleneagles, Scotland, it’ll be 21 years since the United States won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil. So it’s kind of been in the back of my mind for a couple of years knowing that this Ryder Cup was going to take place during my presidency and try to figure out what the PGA of America can do differently and put our team in a position to win.”

Watson, one of the most respected figures in the game’s history, was the first candidate that stood out in Bishop’s mind. He first bounced the idea off the late Jim Huber, a longtime golf commentator and sports journalist, about 13 months ago.

Huber not only loved the idea, he gave Bishop Watson’s number, and events were set in motion with a phone call

to the golf legend.

“I caught him in a field in South Dakota pheasant hunting,” Bishop recalled of the initial call. “I didn’t want to interrupt his hunting. We spoke later that evening. I started the dialogue with him.

“First of all, I needed to gauge whether he had any interest in even doing it. I was pleased to hear that he did.”

Watson was more than interested. He was ready to answer the calling.

“I’ve been waiting for the call for 20 years. I always wanted to be captain again,” Watson said during a Thursday morning teleconference.” I loved doing it the first time. I wanted to do it another time.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”

After learning of Watson’s interest, Bishop put together a detailed 85-page presentation for PGA officers stating his case. To his delight, he had their full support.

Little more than a year after offering it, Bishop’s idea became reality Thursday, beginning with the “Today” show announcement, followed two hours later by a worldwide news conference at the Empire State Building.

“It’s been very gratifying to hear other people say, ‘This is brilliant. This is a no-brainer. Wow, this is really getting out of the box and doing something that’s going to be cool for the Ryder Cup,’” Bishop said. “You want to have a guy who’s been through the wars over there who can talk to players and tell them what it’s going to be like to play and get them ready to play. He’s going to be the guy.”

Watson not only embraces the role, he’s confident of fulfilling it.

“The way I look at being the captain, it’s like being a stage manager,” said Watson, who competed in the Australian Open during the weekend and shot a low-round 63 on Sunday. “Here we are in iconic New York, in (the Empire State Building), not too far from Broadway and the theater, which we went to last night. There’s always a stage manager, and that person has to prepare the stage for the actors, and that’s what I do as the captain. I prepare the stage for the actors: in this case, the players.

“I’ve lived for that (Ryder Cup) pressure and lived underneath that pressure my whole career. I hope I can set the table for these players. I’m the manager. I set the stage, and they go out and perform.”

Bishop has no doubt the PGA picked the best motivator to direct a winning performance at Gleneagles in 2014.

“He would be a traditionalist. I think he expects a certain kind of behavior on the golf course,” Bishop said. “And he’s always conducted himself in that kind of manner. Whether he’s won, whether he’s lost, no matter how he’s won or how he’s lost, he’s always the same guy.

“He really kind of stands for what the game is.”

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