We knew the fallout was going to be ugly. After all, in a very public forum that was the American post-match team press conference, Phil Mickelson aired an attack against Captain Tom Watson and his leadership philosophy. Shots were fired by both sides, but I had a feeling Mickelson, who never utters a word without an agenda, had a strong reason for what he did. I defended Mickelson’s outspoken critique, as to me, it appeared he had slammed Watson for the greater good of the American Ryder Cup team.
Now, what exactly was Phil’s motivation? Well, we’re finding out with leakages from inside the team room. Turns out it was unfortunately as bad as we thought. According to an ESPN.com report, on Saturday night prior to the Sunday’s singles matches, Watson criticized players, refused to take responsibility for any issues with the team and essentially rebuffed a gift given to him by the players.
What happens in the team room is what happens in the team room, but bits like this are always bound to be leaked out, particularly when you have up to 40 people in attendance. Apparently, while Watson attended his media responsibilities, the mood in the U.S. team room, despite a 10-6 deficit to Europe, was fairly positive. That is, until Watson showed up.
Watson started by saying, according to all of the sources: “You stink at foursomes.”
After praising the rookie team of Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, Watson went through the Sunday singles pairings and ridiculed several members of the European side as he went through the matchups. Soon after, Watson was presented a gift by Furyk, a replica of the Ryder Cup trophy that was signed by every member of the team. Instead of thanking them, the sources said Watson said the gift meant nothing to him if the players didn’t get the real Ryder Cup on Sunday and that he wanted to be holding it aloft on the green in victory.
Said one of the sources: “That’s almost verbatim. He said it basically means nothing to me.”
Added another: “It was fairly shocking that he treated this thoughtful gift with such disdain.”
When Watson was done, other players, as is standard, were invited to speak, and several did, as well as assistant captains Andy North, Raymond Floyd and Steve Stricker. (North also works as an ESPN golf commentator.) Mickelson went last, and he came to the front of the room, then sat in a chair with his back to Watson while he addressed the team, telling it, among other things, that he felt good about a comeback.
“Phil went player by player and told a story about each one,” one source in the room said. “It changed the tenor of the room from completely negative and heads down to ‘Let’s give this a go tomorrow.’ He gave almost 180 degrees difference than what Tom did.”
And, well, that’s basically why Phil did what he did during Sunday’s press conference.
Said one of the sources: “[Mickelson] was trying to lead the team and protect the team there when he put himself under the gun pretty good on Sunday night. He did that for a lot of people.”