As much as Watson is beloved around the world for his timeless game, epic duels with Nicklaus and graciousness in any outcome, the Scots consider him one of their own. Watson won his first major at Carnoustie in 1975 when he quickly understood how to play links golf. He won five British Open titles, the most of any American, with four of those in Scotland.
He nearly made it six claret jugs three years ago. At age 59, he came within an 8-foot par putt on the last hole from winning at Turnberry. Watson missed the putt, and then lost to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
The ovation he heard that week in Turnberry might be different at Gleneagles. His job will be to help the players handle the pressure of the hostile crowd and the enormity of the moment.
The PGA of America broke from its model of taking former major champions in their late 40s who still play on the PGA Tour and are in touch with the players. Watson last played a full schedule in 1998, though the PGA of America had to wonder if perhaps the young captains were too close to the players.
Bishop first thought of Watson while flying back from Bermuda after the 2011 PGA Grand Slam of Golf, when he read a book about that near-miss at the British. When he first called, Watson was in a field in South Dakota pheasant hunting.
A few blocks from Broadway on Thursday, Watson compared himself to a stage manager with the job of putting his actors in best position to succeed. He mentioned the importance of luck in winning the Ryder Cup.
But he acknowledged that the good karma of his victories overseas — and especially in Scotland — might be that little nudge that returns the Americans to victory.
“It may give them a sense: ‘This guy has been there before and he’s been successful before and we’re going to be a success because he’s there leading us,’” Watson said.
He expects he’ll help out in the most mundane of areas, such as advice on how to adjust to the time change. At the 1981 Ryder Cup at Walton Heath, Watson recalled, he cautioned Tom Kite not to tweak his swing just because he felt lousy the first few days there. Kite was glad he listened.
Watson dismissed talk that the Europeans were more motivated than the Americans in recent years. What he heard from Davis Love III, the captain at Medinah, was a team devastated by defeat.
“This responsibility is a challenge,” Watson said. “But I’ve been there before, and I welcome it.”
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.