Notebook: North's friendship paid off for Watson
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - When Tom Watson searched for a vice captain for the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team, he found somebody who stayed in touch with the PGA Tour after his playing days ended.
The captain figured a longtime friend and ESPN analyst would do nicely. Enter Andy North.
The two met in 1967, playing in the Western Amateur. North didn't have a Watson-type career, but did well enough to win two U.S. Opens.
"He's somebody I can rely on to tell me about the Tour, what's going on with the Tour, because of his job as an ESPN announcer," Watson said. "He knows the players inside and out.
"When you win a couple U.S. Opens, that means you can really play. He knows what it takes to close the deal. And that's what we need on the Ryder Cup team, players who can close the deal. Actually, I asked him to be an assistant captain earlier this year. We've been discussing players already."
The top nine players in a point system based on money earnings and performances in major tournaments automatically make the team. Watson then gets to pick three players, and then has the task of figuring out where and when to play them.
The goal is to end the domination by the European team, which has won the cup seven of the last nine times in the variable match-play format.
"It's wonderful to watch players execute under pressure, and to see how they can handle pressure," North said. "As a player, is what you look to yourself about, and you put all the practice and effort into, 'How do I handle it once I get there?' And that's what I like to see, how they handle it.''
The Ryder Cup takes place Sept. 23-28, 2014 at the Gleneagles course at Perthshire, Scotland.
In one of the more interesting morning pairings, Wake Forest alums Webb Simpson and Bill Haas tee off at 7:50 a.m. today from the 10th tee, along with Nick Watney.
It's an interesting dynamic - Simpson and Haas are competitors who have done well at the Old White TPC, and they are fellow Demon Deacons. They never played as college teammates under coach Jerry Haas, Bill's uncle - Bill Haas played from 2001-04, Simpson from 2005-08.
Nonetheless, the bond is there.
"Me and Webb share a love for Wake Forest, and my uncle as well, you know he was [also] Webb's coach there," Haas said. "Jerry, I think, has meant a lot to both of our games . . . The reason we're close friends is because of Wake Forest and because of Jerry."
Bill Haas is coming off a win at the AT&T National at Bethesda, Md., moving him from 26th to ninth in the FedExCup standings. It was his fifth PGA Tour win, putting him four behind father Jay Haas.
In the 2011 Classic, he lost in a three-way playoff to Scott Stallings, a heartbreaking result that helped him capture the FedExCup championship a few months later.
As for Simpson, he is looking for his first win since the 2012 U.S. Open, and lost a playoff against Graeme McDowell at the Heritage in South Carolina. He is 14th in FedExCup standings and 19th in the world.
And for the next two days, he's playing with his friend and fellow Wake alum.
"I can't say enough nice things about Bill Haas," Simpson said. "When I got out on Tour in 2008, there was nobody nicer in terms of giving me advice, helping me out, whatever I needed. You know, it's rare to feel like there's a guy on Tour that roots for you because we're trying to beat everybody each week."
Jerry West is a frequent visitor to the tournament, walking several holes last year with Tiger Woods in the pro-am. On Wednesday, he walked with Simpson.
"I'm a huge basketball fan," said Simpson, who has watched his share of Atlantic Coast Conference hoops. "I met him before, but walk with him and hang out and talk a little bit about some players [was fun]. And we talked about Seth Curry - I know Seth from Charlotte, we played golf together.
"It was fun just to be out there."
Oh-oh-oh so zany trivia: Bubba Watson's Classic appearance is the first by one of the "Golf Boys" since Ben Crane finished 21st in 2010. But that gets an asterisk - the outrageous first "Oh Oh Oh" video wasn't released until 2011.
In that video, which drew laughter, derision and a combination of both, Watson golfed in overalls sans shirt. The other characters are Crane, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler.
The funny thing: Three of the four have risen in stature since. Watson owns a Masters championship and is ranked 19th in the world; Mahan won twice in 2012 and is No. 22; Fowler won at Charlotte in 2012 and is ranked 32nd. Crane hasn't played his best golf recently, but he has won four Tour titles.
The quartet tossed reverence to the wind again this year, releasing "Golf Boys 2.oh." So which one is better?
"Two, for sure," Watson said. "Two cost a little bit more money, so it was better."
Wednesday's footnote: The Ricky Barnes team took the pro-am, shooting a 19-under par 52. The amateurs were Mark McCullough, Dan Lee and Chuck West.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.