Golf: Watson opts for cup experience

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The Independent Online
TOM WATSON revealed his Ryder Cup hand yesterday and, in plumping for experience, it is a gnarled and blistered one. Watson, the non-playing captain of the United States team who play Europe at The Belfry next month, had two selections in addition to 10 who qualified on merit and he chose the plump and 50-year-old Ray Floyd and the 43-year-old Lanny Wadkins. Both have played in seven previous Ryder Cups, writes Tim Glover.

Floyd, who is in his 30th year as a tour professional, now plays more on the senior tour than the regular one and he missed the half-way cut in the US PGA Championship at Inverness. With the aid of modern technology Watson was able to speak to both players simultaneously at their homes in Florida and Texas.

'How's your health Lanny?' he asked. Lanny, who has had a health problem, replied that it was fine.

'How's your back Ray?' Ray said: 'I'm about to be 51 and I'm not sure until I wake up.'

Floyd played in the Ryder Cup in 1969, 1975, 1977, 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1991. He was the non-playing captain in the tied match at The Belfry in 1989. His record is played 27, won nine, lost 15 and halved three. Wadkins played in 1977, 1979, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1991. Played 30, won 18, lost 10 and halved two.

'They are the sort of players,' Watson said, 'who would step in front of a bullet meant for the captain.' He mentioned this more than once and it was an unfortunate phrase. Since the so called War on the Shore at Kiawah Island in South Carolina two years ago, when the United States regained the cup by a single point, Watson has been trying to distance himself from any battle metaphors. 'It's a beautiful event,' he said. 'I can't emphasise it enough . . . professionals playing just for pride.'

Floyd is 22nd on the US points list, Wadkins 32nd. Watson admitted that John Daly was on his shortlist, as was Jack Nicklaus. 'Daly is the biggest draw in golf,' Watson said, 'but the experience factor counted against him. I thought a lot about him. Five rookies in the cup would have been one too many.' Presumably Nicklaus would have been one golden oldie too many. The four debutants are Lee Janzen, John Cook, Davis Love and Jim Gallagher Jnr.

Watson, who was fifth in the US PGA Championship - he was also fifth in the US Open, said the US PGA, which was once decided over match play rather than strokeplay, should revert to match play. 'Match play is a wonderful format,' Watson said, 'and it is why the Ryder Cup has become so successful. That is the nature of the game. Match play identifies something that strokeplay doesn't and that's heart and guts.'

Watson said he chose Floyd and Wadkins because they have 'heart and guts'. They are the type of guys, he said, that would make the putt that Bernhard Langer missed on the last green at Kiawah Island. 'Europe has a strong team,' Watson said, 'but we're taking a stronger one.'

The European team will be finalised at the end of the month following the Murphy's English Open at the Forest of Arden this week and the German Open the week after that. Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Barry Lane, Colin Montgomerie and Mark James have secured their places.

Bernard Gallacher, the European captain, has three wild cards compared with Watson's two. 'Tom has got the difficult part over,' Gallacher said. 'I was not surprised at his selections. Lanny is an aggressive golfer with an impressive Ryder Cup record and Raymond got on well with Fred Couples at Kiawah Island.

'The last five Ryder Cup matches have been absolutely fabulous and I expect the 24 players at The Belfry to make this one electrifying. It will be close but I'm convinced we will win back the cup.'