Tom Watson -- almost a week after his Ryder Cup team’s huge loss to the Europeans, and following by a day an ESPN report that painted an ugly picture of a rigid, mean-spirited U.S. captain -- accepted some blame for the Americans’ poor showing at Gleneagles.Also seeking to stem the bad PR from the matches’ 16.5-11.5 outcome and its embarrassing aftermath was Ted Bishop. The president of the PGA of America on Sunday defended Phil Mickelson’s criticism of Bishop’s hand-picked choice for captain.
Both actions made clear that, though Justin Rose and the rest of the victorious Euro team continued to revel in their win, those clad in red, white, and blue were still licking their wounds and trying to figure out where to assess blame.
To recap, immediately after the Americans’ expected yet stunning defeat, Mickelson elected to use the post-tourney press conference to l ash out indirectly at Watson’s leadership. Following last Saturday’s benching -- his first full day of inaction in 10 Ryder Cup starts -- Mickelson, with Watson sitting nearby, championed the tactics of 2008 captain Paul Azinger.
A week later, on a wild college football Saturday, a prime news-dump time, Watson issued a statement via Bishop’s organization in which he accepted responsibility for poor inter-personal skills. He also revealed that he had contacted Mickelson to bury the hatchet.
"What we’ve got here is failure to communicate," Watson absolutely did not say, though Capt. Tom ruled with as iron a fist as the Captain in 1967‘s "Cool Hand Luke."
The promotional effort by the 65-year-old eight-time major winner was clearly in response to the ESPN article, in which four unnamed sources aired grievances that occurred in the team room on the eve of last Sunday’s finale. Watson, according to the account, ruthlessly criticized his guys’ foursomes play and ungraciously spurned a gift from them.
"I regret that my words may have made the players feel that I didn't appreciate their commitment and dedication to winning the Ryder Cup," Watson, who presided over the eighth loss to the Euros in the last 10 events, said in Saturday’s open letter. "My intentions throughout my term as captain were both to inspire and to be honest."
In addition to expressing disdain for the players’ offering (a Ryder Cup replica that each man had signed), Watson reportedly disparaged some opponents while hailing only two of his own competitors (Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed).
"The guys gave everything. They played their hearts out," said Watson, apparently refuting the sentiments expressed to ESPN. "I was proud to get to know each and every one of them."
Watson contended he had "an open and candid conversation" with Mickelson, whose remarks he excused as a "reaction in the moment."
The chat produced "a better understanding of each other’s perspectives," Watson added. "Phil's heart and intentions for our team's success have always been in the right place. Phil is a great player, has great passion and I admire what he's done for golf."
Watson wrapped up by taking "complete and full responsibility" for "whatever mistakes that were made."
Bishop, for his part, told BBC Radio Five’s Sportsweek program that he was sympathetic toward Watson and wished Mickelson had tackled the skipper in private. He did not, however, take Lefty to task for what he said.
"He did what he did with a purpose whether you agree with it or not," said Bishop, who boosted Mickelson as a future "great" captain, according to multiple reports.
"He's passionate about the Ryder Cup and he feels that there needs to be some changes going forward and I think Phil would undoubtedly say that, if what he said on Sunday night helps propagate some of those changes, then he probably would be okay with it," Bishop observed.
"From a United States standpoint, just really blowing the model up and starting completely over and trying to get some people involved who, as Phil said, are invested in the process," continued Bishop, who promised changes to the Ryder Cup approach, including, perhaps, to "steal a page from [the Europeans’] book" as far as picking captains and players and other aspects.
"We need to have the input of players," said Bishop echoing one of Mickelson’s main complaints about Watson’s style. "Players need to feel good about where we're going with this."