In December 2012, PGA of America president Ted Bishop hired Tom Watson as the captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Still reeling from Europe's epic comeback win over the U.S. earlier that year at Medinah, Bishop believed that Watson was the only man for the job.
Many Ryder Cup insiders told Bishop that Watson, the U.S. captain in the 1993 Ryder Cup held at the Belfry, was the "tangible difference" in America's 15-13 victory in those matches. He was Tom Watson, eight-time major champion, one of the greatest living icons in the sport.
Watson touted his own credentials as a five-time Open Championship and the last Ryder Cup captain to win on European soil. In his words, he had "street cred."
Well, Bishop got it wrong. Watson was a disaster as captain at Gleneagles, where the Europeans retained the cup with a 16½ - 11½ victory over the U.S. on Sunday.
One of Watson's more notable blunders as an emotionless captain who struggled to connect with his much younger players was his decision to bench Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed on Friday afternoon after they had obliterated their opponents in the morning session. And then Watson had the audacity to sit Phil Mickelson for both sessions on Saturday, the first time that has ever been done to Lefty.
This was going to be Watson's Ryder Cup team, win or lose: his way or no way. After Mickelson suggested on Sunday evening that the U.S. team consider returning to the more democratic decision process introduced by Paul Azinger at the Valhalla matches in 2008, Watson was very dismissive of taking any decision-making powers out of the hands of he and his assistants.
"I had a different philosophy as far as being a captain of this team," Watson said. "It takes 12 players to win. It's not pods. It's 12 players. Yes, I did talk to the players, but my vice-captains were very instrumental in making decisions as to whom to pair with. I had a different philosophy than Paul. I decided not to go that way."
No sense in trying to rationalize the motives of a 65-year-old man firmly set in his beliefs and attitude toward the world.
Let's get on to how the PGA of America ensures that it never hires another Tom Watson. What are the most valuable qualities in a successful coach or team captain? Why does the Ryder Cup captain have to be a player?
Bill Belichick never played in the NFL, but he has been one of the best coaches of his generation. He built his "street cred" working his way up through the assistant coaching ranks with the New York Giants.
Being a great player doesn't mean one is going to be a great coach. Watson's immense knowledge of the game and 39 PGA Tour wins is hardly proof that he has the temperament or the communication skills to lead 12 men in one of the most pressure-packed athletic events on the planet. His success at the Belfry matches 21 years ago doesn't mean he had some replicable recipe that would work for all time.
Bishop and many of the players who supported Watson's selection as captain spoke about his aura and iconic status in the sport, as if those mere attributes were supposed to suffuse the American team with a magical quality that would overwhelm a very good European team.
The late Seve Ballesteros had that larger-than-life brand status, but he was a hyper and ever-present captain in his one stint as the victorious European captain at the 1997 Valderrama matches. The Spaniard led his team like a man who knew that it would be his only opportunity to perform this duty.
Watson might be a gifted teacher and communicator, but he didn't demonstrate those qualities at Gleneagles.
Nor did Watson appear to have a plan that he articulated publicly. Good teachers always have a sound, doable lesson plan. Regardless of the differences he might feel with Paul Azinger's "pod" approach, at least the 2008 U.S. captain had a working philosophy that he eventually put into a book about how to get the most out of his players.
Devoid of much of a real explanation for his decisions and befuddled by the criticism that ensued, Watson had this aloof offering after the matches.
"The bottom line is, they kicked our butts," he said. "They were better players this week. Our team has to play better."
Good coaches give the opposing team credit for a well-played game, but they often shoulder some of the burden for not adequately preparing their teams to compete.
Watson responded to questions like an icon with a bruised ego, not like a coach who cares about his players or the perils of the job.
The next U.S. Ryder Cup captain needs to be a real coach, the type of person who coaches golf teams for a living. Why not reach into the college ranks and get a full-time men's golf coach?
Chris Haack, the Georgia men's coach, had two of his former players on this U.S. team, Bubba Watson and Reed, and he had several other players in the running to qualify for the team. Come Spring, Haack leads a squad into the match-play portion of the NCAA men's championship.
The PGA of America and its sponsors might require more gravitas for the face of its U.S. team than a college coach, but it might be worth it for the powers that be to consider how to learn from those who work with teams on a full-time basis.
It would be unimaginable for the U.S. men's Olympic team to be led by Michael Jordan, simply because many look up to him as the standard-bearer of excellence in the game. International competition requires a competent coach like Mike Krzyzewski, who was charged not to teach basketball fundamentals, but to propose and implement strategies that would help already-great athletes execute and win games. Players want to play for great coaches who help them win, not simply icons who are cool to hear speak at a pregame meal.
Perhaps the PGA of America will bring Azinger back as captain for the Hazeltine matches in 2016. More than anyone in recent memory in the job, the outspoken former PGA champion came off as a coach with a real lesson plan that was attuned to the players on his team.
Watson might be correct that the Europeans simply outplayed with his team, yet that's never been a good enough explanation for failure in our society. Sure, U.S. Ryder Cup teams need to play better, but they also need improved and more consistent leadership with people who are more interested than simply moonlighting as leaders every couple of years.
It shouldn't be enough to have been a multiple major champion or a great Ryder Cup player to lead a team that represents the country to the rest of the world.