The juiciest drama of the day didn’t per se occur on the golf course, but rather in the interview room — forget the Real Housewives of New Jersey or Keeping up with the Kardashians. For the best reality TV of the week, just watch the U.S. team’s post-Ryder Cup loss press conference, which included all 12 players and Captain Tom Watson.
The fallout from some of Captain Tom Watson’s decisions played out in a shocking manner when Phil Mickelson, who had a lot of time to think on Saturday after sitting out two matches, was asked how the Americans, who have now lost 8 of the last 10 Ryder Cups, could improve their play in the biennial matches pitting the U.S. against Europe.
Well, Mickelson, who was sitting about five seats away from Watson, certainly spoke his mind. Then, Watson countered and Mickelson fired back. The whole thing became incredibly awkward, with the rest of the team squirming uncomfortably, while it transpired.
I’ll let the theatric unfold with the leading mens’ own fighting words.
Q. Anyone that was on the team at Valhalla, can you put your finger on what worked in 2008 and what hasn’t worked since?
PHIL MICKELSON: There were two things that allow us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger did, and one was he got everybody invested in the process. He got everybody invested in who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod, who — when they would play, and they had a great leader for each pod. In my case, we had Ray Floyd, and we hung out together and we were all invested in each other’s play. We were invested in picking Hunter that week; Anthony Kim and myself and Justin were in a pod, and we were involved on having Hunter be our guy to fill our pod. So we were invested in the process. And the other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us, you know, how we were going to go about doing this. How we were going to go about playing together; golf ball, format, what we were going to do, if so-and-so is playing well, if so-and-so is not playing well, we had a real game plan. Those two things helped us bring out our best golf. And I think that, you know, we all do the best that we can and we’re all trying our hardest, and I’m just looking back at what gave us the most success. Because we use that same process in The Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.
Q. That felt like a pretty brutal destruction of the leadership that’s gone on this week.
PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, I’m sorry you’re taking it that way. I’m just talking about what Paul Azinger did to help us play our best. It’s certainly — I don’t understand why you would take it that way. You asked me what I thought we should do going toward to bring our best golf out and I go back to when we played our best golf and try to replicate that formula.
Q. That didn’t happen this week?
PHIL MICKELSON: Uh (pausing) no. No, nobody here was in any decision. So, no.
Then, a scribe asked Watson to counter Phil’s take.
Q. Can you tell us what you think of what Phil said about Paul Azinger?
TOM WATSON: I had a different philosophy as far as being a captain of this team. You know, it takes 12 players to win. It’s not pods. It’s 12 players. And I felt — I based my decisions on — 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. But I did have most of them play in the practise rounds together who played most of the time in the matches. I think that was the proper thing to do. Yes, I did mix-and-match a little bit from there, but again, you have to go with the evolution of the playing of the match and see who is playing the best and who to play with whom, and that’s what I did.
Q. Do you think that Phil was being disloyal, because it sounded like that?
TOM WATSON: Not at all. He has a difference of opinion. That’s okay. My management philosophy is different than his.
Q. Do you still consider the philosophy you came here with a winning philosophy?
TOM WATSON: Yes, absolutely.
Q. And secondly, have you read Paul Azinger’s book, and if so, why did you discount it in regards to using it this week?
TOM WATSON: I didn’t discount it. I just had a different philosophy right off the bat, Alex. I felt that the assessment of the players was paramount from the standpoint of my vice captains and me and see who is going to play with whom. My two jobs are to make the captain’s picks and then put the team together. Those are my two most important jobs. I felt that the — again, that was — whether I did the best possible job of putting the teams together, that’s up to you people to debate. But the other thing is, I used the experience and the thoughts of my vice captains a lot, and the players to some extent, to make sure that I felt we had the very best teams out there possible. Listen, the Europeans kicked our butt. The bottom line is they kicked our butts. They were better players this week. I mean, we had a chance today. We started off, got everything in the red, almost everything in the red. Then they turned it on us, and that’s what champions are made of. They get down and come back and win. They kicked our butts, and that’s the bottom line.
Back to Phil!
Q. You talk about the template there. Just curious to know, did you speak in advance with Tom about that, your preference for that template? Was this a conversation that you had in advance of coming over?
PHIL MICKELSON: What template are you talking about?
Q. Getting people involved, the pod system, and getting people involved in the process.
PHIL MICKELSON: No.
More shots fired! Next, Jim Furyk gets dragged into the contentious conversation, but, of course Phil interjected with a coy jab at Watson.
Q. You’ve listened to the back and forth between Phil and Tom, and as the other veteran, I was curious for your opinion.
JIM FURYK: Gee, thanks (laughter). Just sitting over here minding my own business (laughter).PHIL
MICKELSON: I don’t think the premise of your question is very well stated. I don’t think that this has been back and forth.
JIM FURYK: I think that I have a lot of respect for both gentlemen. I’ve known Phil my entire life. Since I was 16, I’ve competed against him. He’s one of my dearest friends on the PGA TOUR. And I have a lot of respect for our captain. I know he put his heart and soul in it for two years. He worked his ass off to try to provide what he thought would be the best opportunity for us. I don’t think it’s wise for either one of us to be pitted in the middle of that. I respect both of those gentlemen. I would suggest that you direct the questions that way rather than to put one — I know what we are all trying to do. We all come here and we are trying to win a Ryder Cup together, trying to pull together as 12, as one unit. We’ve fallen short quite a bit, and it’s — you know, five of you have already asked me tonight what’s the winning formula and what’s the difference year-in, year-out. If I could put my finger on it, I would have changed this shit a long time ago but we haven’t and we are going to keep searching.
For those who didn’t pick up on the subtle dig from Phil, he’s basically implying that Watson didn’t care to listen to or get feedback from any of his players. In other words, there was poor communication under Watson’s management, which has been obvious from the start — however, we’ll dissect his captaincy in another post.
Don’t have any disillusions that Mickelson spoke out spontaneously. He had plenty of time to think about what he wanted to say. Because that’s just how Mickelson operates. In almost every case, each word he utters has a purpose to serve. While I don’t disagree with Phil’s opinion, this may not have been the best forum to have voiced it. However, it certainly took cojones!
So, why was Phil so upset with Watson? Well, I think there are many layers to that question, which, again, we’ll discuss, but mostly, Mickelson was bitter over Watson benching him for both Saturday sessions after he lobbied the captain to desperately to play in afternoon foursomes. Watson wouldn’t change his mind (he goes with his gut!). This came a day after Mickelson pleaded with Watson to play both sessions on Friday and caught grief for it — the results didn’t turn out so well, either, as Phil, a 44-year-old arthritic, looked exhausted and played terribly in a decisive 3&2 loss against a fresh Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson in afternoon foursomes.
Needless to say, Phil might not be flying home in the team charter. He and Watson certainly won’t be sitting next to each other.