New York - US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson said on Saturday he takes full blame for the Americans' latest loss to Europe last weekend at Gleneagles and regrets communication woes with his players.
In an open letter released following an ESPN report of a contentious meeting with players ahead of the final day of the biennial team golf showdown, Watson said he had spoken with Phil Mickelson about the star's criticism after the US defeat and they had a better understanding of each other's perspective as a result.
"The bottom line is this. I was their captain. In hindsight whatever mistakes that were made were mine. And I take complete and full responsibility for them," Watson said.
Mickelson's remarks came after Watson ripped players and dismissed a gift to him, ESPN reported, citing unnamed sources who were at the meeting of the US team, which would lose 16 1/2 to 11 1/2 to Europe.
Watson, at 65 the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history, guided the Americans to their most recent win in Europe in 1993 and was brought back in hopes of inspiring another victory.
But according to the report, his methods likely alienated the game's top current US talent.
Watson was criticized for decisions about pairings, including not playing Mickelson on day two in either pairs format and benching star rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed after an opening victory Friday.
After the loss, Mickelson spoke out about what changes he felt were needed, a major repudiation of the methods Watson had used.
"As for Phil's comments, I completely understand his reaction in the moment," Watson said in his letter. "Earlier this week I had an open and candid conversation with him and it ended with a better understanding of each other's perspectives. Phil's heart and intentions for our team's success have always been in the right place."
Watson had also insisted that avenging a comeback win by Europe two years earlier was a major motivation even as players almost to a man dismissed that idea, an early sign that captain and players were not on the same page.
ESPN said Watson began the Saturday meeting with players by noting they were bad at foursomes, a format where they were outscored 7-1 overall, and then began to ridicule some European players.
After US Ryder Cup veteran Jim Furyk gave Watson a gift, a replica of the Ryder Cup trophy signed by every player, Watson told them it meant nothing to him if he could not lift the real trophy on Sunday.
"I take complete and full responsibility for my communication and I regret that my words may have made the players feel that I didn't appreciate their commitment and dedication to winning the Ryder Cup," Watson said.
"The guys gave everything. They played their hearts out. I was proud to get to know each and every one of them."
Asked what the US team needed to do to play better, Watson said the players needed to play better.
"In the end, the facts are that the other team played better. My hat's off and congratulations to them," Watson said.
At the closing news conference, it was Mickelson who suggested a return to more player involvement in who plays when and a "pod" system where smaller groups work through assistants to promote greater involvement and communication by all.
The system was used by Paul Azinger in 2008 when the Americans beat Europe at Valhalla.
Tension filled the air, Hunter Mahan squirming as he stared at Mickelson while seated to his left and Furyk saying he did not want to get in the middle of the discussion.
"I want to say again to the players, their families, the PGA and our country how proud and honored I was to captain this talented group of golfers, and how privileged I was to spend the past two years working this labor of my love for the Ryder Cup," Watson said.