By JOE FERRARO
He played for four U.S. Ryder Cup teams and captained another, taking in more than his fair share of tense and emotion-filled moments.
But Tom Watson’s favorite Ryder Cup moment happened just before he swung a golf club in the United States vs. Europe event.
It was at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in 1977, when the American flag slowly made its way up a flagpole during the Ryder Cup opening ceremonies.
“The first time I played on a Ryder Cup team it was a feeling I’ve never had before, and that’s playing for my country,’’ Watson said on Wednesday at Hualalai Golf Club after getting in a pro-am round leading up to this weekend’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.
Watson, the 2010 Mitsubishi Electric champion and one of 40 players in this year’s field, is elated about having the chance to experience that feeling again.
He will captain the U.S. 2014 Ryder Cup team in hopes of ending what has been a bad stretch at the event since Watson captained the 1993 U.S. Ryder Cup team to a 15-13 win over Europe.
“After it was over (in 1993), I didn’t say anything to anybody, but I wanted to do it again,’’ said Watson, the first repeat U.S. captain at the event.
Just before PGA of America president Ted Bishop informed Watson of his selection in December, the 63-year-old told reporters in Australia that he was itching to get a “tap on the shoulder’’ from Bishop. It’s an itch Watson said he has had for at about 10 years.
“When I got the phone call from Ted Bishop of the PGA, relaying the fact that he thought I’d make a good Ryder Cup captain for the next Ryder Cup in 2014, I was thinking, ‘Man I’ve been waiting for this call for a long time.’’’
Since the U.S. won at The Belfry in Warwickshire, England in 1993, it has dropped seven of the next nine Ryder Cups – a trend Watson wants to change.
The 2014 Ryder Cup will take place at the Gleneagles Hotel’s PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire, Scotland.
As a player, Watson has had his fair share of success on the British Isles, having won five British Open titles. In the 2009 British Open, just before his 60th birthday, he finished runner-up to Stewart Cink at Turnberry in Scotland.
But when he discussed his role as captain, Watson tabbed himself a “stage manager.”
“I give them their marks on the stage, and they go out and perform,’’ he said.
Watson hopes all of his golfers are performing well going into the tournament mainly because of his burning desire to win. If any particular player is struggling, Watson won’t display too much patience.
“I want to win at all costs, meaning that I’m going to play somebody five matches if that’s the case,’’ Watson said. “If somebody’s not playing well, I’m going to sit them. They’ll play, but they won’t play very much. That’s just the way it is in the Ryder Cup.
“So I go back to the point where I hope everybody’s playing well.”
The way Watson sees it, they’ll need to do so in unfavorable weather conditions with Scotland being known for rain and heavy winds.
“They’ll know well beforehand that conditions are going to be cold and probably windy, and they have to prepare for that.”
At a glance
• What: Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai
• When: Today through Sunday
• Where: Hualalai Golf Club
• Purse: $1.8 million ($309,000 to winner)
• Last year’s champion: Dan Forsman, who finished at 15 under 201 to beat Jay Don Blake by a stroke
• Past Mitsubishi Electric champions in the 2013 field: Hale Irwin (1997, 2007), Tom Kite (2002), Loren Roberts (2006), Fred Funk (2008), Bernhard Langer (2009), Tom Watson (2010), John Cook (2011) and Forsman
• Ticket to the tournament: To play in the Mitsubishi Electric, golfers must have either won a Champions Tour major tournament in the past five years, won a Champions Tour event in the past two years or received a sponsor exemption. The players who receive the exemptions must have accumulated either a minimum of 30 combined victories on the PGA and Champions tours or racked up 15 combined wins and at least one major championship victory.
• The schedule: The Mitsubishi Electric Championship kicks off the Champions Tour’s 34th season. It is also the first of 26 Charles Schwab Cub events this year, which concludes with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship scheduled for Oct. 31-Nov. 3.
• Charles Schwab Cup: Designed to recognize the Champions Tour’s leading player, the Charles Schwab Cup features a season-long points competition. Players receive points for top 10 finishes based on each week’s money distribution, with $1,000 earned being the equivalent of one Charles Schwab Cup point. Points are doubled at the Champions Tour’s five major championships and at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. The winner of the competition receives a $1 million annuity, with additional prizes being awarded to the next four players. Tom Lehman won his second straight Charles Schwab Cup champion last year, becoming the first golfer to do so.
Today’s tee times
Jay Don Blake