Lefty lets ’em have it: Mickelson bashes another Ryder Cup captain as he says US team are prepared this time
Usually mild-mannered Mickelson criticises another past Ryder Cup captain as US prepare to cross swords with Europe at Hazeltine
Phil Mickelson criticised another past Ryder Cup captain Wednesday in explaining why he thinks this American team will be prepared to play its best.
Mickelson was the catalyst for change in 2014 when he publicly questioned Tom Watson’s heavy-handed role – with Watson sitting at the same table – after another American loss at Gleneagles. That led to the PGA of America creating a task force that allowed for more player involvement.
“When you look back on what the difference is, when players are put in a position to succeed, more often than not they tend to succeed,” Mickelson said. “And when they are put in positions to fail, most of the time they tend to fail.”
That opened the conversation of how much a captain can mean in the Ryder Cup without hitting a shot or making a putt.
“Let me give you an example, if I may,” Mickelson said, stopping just short of wagging his finger.
He went back to 2004 when the Americans suffered their worst loss ever in the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills. Nothing illustrated their failure more than when US captain Hal Sutton sent out Mickelson and Tiger Woods twice. It was their first time playing together, and they lost both matches.
Mickelson was lampooned that week for practicing on an adjacent course as he tried to adjust to the golf ball used by Woods.
“We ended up not playing well. Was that the problem? I mean, maybe,” Mickelson said. “But we were told two days before that we were playing together, and that gave us no time to work together and prepare.”
Mickelson said having to learn how to hit a different golf ball forced him to abandon his own preparations to get sharp.
“In the history of my career, I have never ball-tested two days prior to a major,” Mickelson said. “It doesn’t allow me to play my best. What allows me to play my best is to learn the course, sharpen my touch on the greens, sharpen my chipping out of the rough and ball-striking and so forth. Instead, I’m taking four or five hours, and I’m out trying to learn another ball to allow us to play our best.”
Mickelson said he wasn’t trying to knock Sutton – he said he liked how decisive Sutton was that week.
“But that’s an example of starting with the captain. That put us in a position to fail. And we failed monumentally, absolutely,” he said. “But to say, ‘Well, you just need to play better,’ that is so misinformed. Because you will play how you prepare.”
Mickelson is more optimistic than ever that the American can end two decades of futility against Europe, which has won eight of the last 10 times. Mickelson is playing his record 11th straight Ryder Cup, qualifying for every one of those teams, yet he has been on the winning side only twice.
Two years ago, he was visibly angry after the loss at Gleneagles for the US getting away from what worked under Paul Azinger in a rare 2008 victory, and what seems to work every year at the Presidents Cup against an international team that is not nearly as formidable as Europe.
Davis Love III was captain at Medinah in 2012 when the Americans had a 10-6 lead going into singles, only to win three of the 12 singles matches as Europe rallied to win. Mickelson and Woods were part of that task force that agreed to bring Love back.
“This is a year where we feel as though Captain Love has been putting us in a position to succeed,” Mickelson said. “He’s taken input from all parties. He’s making decisions that have allowed us to prepare our best and play our best, and I believe that we will play our best.”
Just don’t get the idea Mickelson is predicting a victory.
He considered European teams that for years have gotten their best out of players who don’t necessarily thrive in the majors or rise in the world ranking, yet deliver their best golf every two years in the Ryder Cup.
“We are playing a very strong European team, and I don’t know what that means results-wise,” he said. “But our best golf will come out this week, and that’s our goal.”
Mickelson is so involved in the Ryder Cup, from the task force to being part of the new Ryder Cup Committee, that Brandt Snedeker considers him part of the leadership of this American team.
“Phil to me is a vice captain,” Snedeker said. “He’s in there 100 per cent. That’s infectious in the team room, when you have that many guys caring about one common goal and they are the best players of our generation. You’d better believe it’s going to motivate the rest of us to make sure we care as much and get our butts in gear. Tired of losing this thing.”