ORLANDO, Fla. – PGA of America president Ted Bishop said Thursday that he prepared an 85-page document on why Tom Watson should be the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
Such proposals in mind, here’s a one-sentence document on what Bishop and the PGA should do next now that Watson’s appointment is official: Name Larry Nelson captain for the 2016 matches at Minnesota’s Hazeltine National.
Nelson said Thursday he likes the sound of that, that he would welcome such an appointment, that he liked that Bishop said Thursday what he had told him on the telephone the day before: “The door is not closed on Larry Nelson.”
But then Nelson smiled and got playful.
“I’d like them to put it in writing,” he said, grinning. “I’ve been told that before. I would always love to have the opportunity. But I wouldn’t get excited until I got it. … Maybe I’ll move to Minnesota and apply for a job at Hazeltine.”
The support expressed for a Nelson nod has been nothing short of remarkable. Past captains and fellow Hall of Famers here at the PNC Father-Son Challenge – men such as Lee Trevino, Bernhard Langer, David Duval and Mark O’Meara – went out of their way the past two days to say Nelson should be Ryder Cup captain.
Big names praised Watson, but many tacked on an unsolicited addendum: Why not Nelson?
So we’re back to documents. If Bishop and the PGA talk with past captains and Hall of Famers and major champions, there’s a good chance they could come up with more than 85 pages that would passionately recommend Nelson.
Nelson, understandably, said he was “disappointed” that Watson, the 1993 captain, was selected for a second term when other deserving candidates including himself haven’t served once.
A three-time major champion with a 9-3-1 Ryder record, Nelson told me on the first tee Thursday morning that he has been touched by emails and text messages over recent weeks from people endorsing him. He said those notes started coming in once word spread that the PGA of America probably would go for an older captain instead of one, per usual, in his late 40s.
“It’s been unreal,” he said. “It’s been really flattering.”
That led to hope for Nelson. And then more disappointment this week. “It was emotional,” he said Thursday. “I’m certainly disappointed. But not devastated. … I just think it’s a shame they picked someone twice.”
Nelson felt more pain in late 1995 when he was passed over for the ’97 captaincy that went to Tom Kite. He was overlooked back then partly because he wasn’t politically connected to the PGA brass at that time, several years after he won his two PGAs and U.S. Open in the 1980s. Nelson also felt he received minor consideration for the 2006 job that went to Tom Lehman.
But perhaps there’s a silver lining with regard to Nelson now that the PGA, tired of losing Ryder Cups (seven of the last nine), has decided to go outside of its old box, decided to go old instead of young.
As 2012 captain Davis Love III said Thursday, “Now that they’ve gone outside the box, they can do what they want.” He added, “They’ve penciled guys in the right places. Tom Watson in Scotland is pretty natural. They have a good plan.”
Yes, Watson makes sense for Gleneagles because he won four of his five British Open titles in Scotland and he’s the last U.S. captain to have won on foreign soil, in 1993.
It follows that Nelson, though he’d be 69, would fit at Hazeltine in 2016. His selection would right a longtime wrong, make a lot of people happy and surely inspire a 12-man team.
The soft-spoken Nelson, for goodness sake, was a leader of men in Vietnam. So leading a dozen younger players in golf matches shouldn’t be much of a problem.
It would be a touching storyline: A former U.S. soldier, one who didn’t take up golf seriously until 21, leading an American team in America. Too bad you couldn’t play it on July 4.
I ran into PGA Tour veteran Billy Andrade, another Nelson booster, on Thursday here at the Father-Son and asked how players might react on a Ryder Cup Saturday night if Nelson told the team, “I was thinking today about the time I was in a foxhole in Vietnam and turned to the soldier next to me and said …”
Andrade took his hands and circled them around his eyes. His message with that gesture: The team would be wide-eyed and ready to run through a wall.
A few players here suggested that an older former star probably would work better as a captain than someone in his 40s. Their reasoning is that not only would a legend get respect, he could make tough decisions without worrying about hurting the feelings of peers of a similar age.
“The coach needs to make decisions, not the players,” O’Meara said.
Nelson subscribes to that thesis himself and calls a move to an older captain a “positive step.”
In two years, we’ll learn exactly how positive it is for him.