Phil Mickelson got off to a rough start this week at the Ryder Cup, bringing up and criticizing U.S. Captain Hal Sutton in 2004 for his management of the team and pairing him with Tiger Woods with only two days’ notice. It was strange that Phil would bring up 2004 out of all the Ryder Cups he’s played (10 excluding 2016) because he made a big decision that was met with controversy when he switched equipment manufacturers a week before the matches that year.
The next day, Mickelson apologized to Sutton. But the whole thing was just weird and bizarre, especially since the last thing Phil needed was to bring more eyes toward himself after all that’s happened regarding the Ryder Cup ever since the U.S. post-loss presser at Gleneagles.
You can never forget *that* press conference, especially one that came from the losing side. In fact, it might be the greatest presser I’ve ever witnessed. No joke. It was just insane, surreal and slightly awkward to hear Mickelson sound off on his negative opinion of Watson’s leadership skills, which led to the PGA of America forming a “Task Force” — it’s now turned into a “Committee” (they were becoming the butt of too many jokes). The whole process of the Ryder Cup was examined and revamped and the Americans were supposed to have discovered and developed a brand new system for success after losing the last three of the biennial matches against Europe, with the last one they won being the only one of the entire century in 2008.
Mickelson was part of this Task Force and he orchestrated much of everything Ryder Cup-related in the last two years. How could he not? After he sounded off on Watson and the entire system that had allegedly put the U.S. on a bad losing streak, he was partly responsible for the result of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. There was a ton of pressure on many members of the American team, along with Love, who was also the skipper at the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012, but the brunt of it was on Mickelson.
It was also no secret to insiders that this was more Phil’s team than the “official” captain “in name.” Who was actually calling the shots in most these decisions? Who had the most influence in managing the Americans. Captain Phil. Duh. As much as we joked about this moniker all week — and despite the hiccup involving Sutton early in the week — Mickelson was brilliant, with his play on the course and his participation in strategy and leadership in the U.S. team room. This one was to make up for all those losing Ryder Cups he had been a part of and it was especially to back up all the drama he caused two years ago in Scotland.
It’s easy to call Mickelson a drama queen and roll your eyes at his eagerness and attempt to play down his role in decision-making with regard to the U.S. Ryder Cup team, but it’s hard to criticize his influence, words and actions. He has backed it all up, and most of all, he played an instrumental role both on and off the course in bringing the Cup back to American soil. It’s about time. Drastic action needed to be taken and it came in the form of Mickelson sounding off on Watson and America’s horrible record in the last couple of decades. A freaking “Task Force” was forced, for Christ sake! But hey, call it what you want, it worked.
All eyes were on Phil. Here’s how the U.S. presser opened when questions were welcomed:
Q. What do you think of Captain Love’s leadership style (laughter)?
PHIL MICKELSON: (Shaking head). We had a great week this week. (Entire team turning, all focusing intently on Phil). We had a lot of fun together as a team, and we played some great golf and we are really excited to have won. (Team applauding).
While no doubt Mickelson was patting himself on the back, he was gracious with accepting credit for the success.
“The pressure started when some dumbass opened his mouth two years ago in the media center,” said Mickelson in the post-win presser, laughing.
“The thing about this is that we need to build on this. Otherwise, it’s all for naught. We created a very solid foundation this year. With the input that Davis Love had and each vice captain with Tom Lehman and Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, and Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson, all brought integral parts to the success of this foundation, and it’s important that we build on that.
“And Davis is going to be a very instrumental part of that going forward in two years, because for us to go to Europe and try to win the Cup is a whole different feat. That’s going to require a whole different level of play, of solidarity, of fortitude and we are going to have to build on this in two years if we want to try to retain the Cup.
“So it’s important to start this foundation. Yes, it’s great that we had success this week, but it’s not about one year or one Ryder Cup. It’s about a multitude, for decades to come. (Champagne cork popped by Davis) that’s my cue to shut up.”
And now that Mickelson and the U.S. Ryder Cup “Committee” have supposedly discovered some sort of secret formula for success, he isn’t revealing any of America’s secrets. After all, he and several other veteran members of this team — both playing and non-playing — put basically everything on the line with regard to these matches in their countless hours discussing and meeting to try and “fix” the system.
“I don’t know if I can answer that directly, but let me say this,” said Phil. “I’ve been around these guys for quite — every year in The Presidents Cup and The Ryder Cup, and I’ve seen a level of greatness in these guys. Not only are they great men, but they are great golfers, incredible golfers.
“The environment they were put in today, or this week, brought out some of their best golf that I’ve ever seen from them. And it’s truly a remarkable thing to watch, and it’s a fun thing to be a part of. I’m very proud to be a part of this team.
“And to see the level of accomplishment and performance that these guys had this week was just sensational. I believe that we all — we made each other proud, but we also hopefully made every American proud.”
Phil didn’t just deliver off the course, he was money with his solid play, as well. It was a bit of a surprise when Mickelson played the first session, which was foursomes, but partnered with Rickie Fowler, the Americans surprisingly defeated Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan 1-up, as Team USA opened with a strong 4-0 start. Mickelson sat that afternoon, but he played both sessions Saturday. In morning foursomes, teamed up with Fowler again, they lost, but then he mixed things up and joked his way through afternoon four-balls with Matt Kuchar to win another point.
Then, Mickelson *happened* to find himself smack in the middle of the Sunday singles lineup at no. 6 — opposite for Europe was Sergio Garcia, known for his success at the Ryder Cup (you could say the opposite about Mickelson). It set things up for Mickelson to potentially endure quite a bit of pressure at a critical point in the day.
The way it happened, it was important, but it wouldn’t have decided or really mattered that much. Mickelson, however, fought hard and played to the level of his final-round performance at the Open Championship, where he eventually lost to Henrik Stenson. This time, Phil made 10 birdies and one bogey, including birdies on five of the last seven. Usually, you’d think he must have won, but Sergio notched nine of his own and birdied the last four.
“We had a really good match obviously, and we played some good golf,” said Mickelson. “I made a bunch of birdies. I know that I birdied five of the last seven and he birdied the last four, and it was probably a fitting result with a tie, even though I wanted the win.
“As long as we won the Cup and brought this Cup back to America, that’s all that really mattered. But the match itself was really good.”
Mickelson holed a 12-footer on the 18th, which resulted in him jumping in the air (a la 2004 Masters), but Sergio matched his birdie by making his own putt. It was a match for the ages. It truly was fitting that it ended in a halve.
“Well, when I try to dunk a basketball, I try to jump pretty high,” said Mickelson of his post-birdie celebration, laughing. “I can touch the net. My arms are pretty long.
“But I don’t know, I’m older now, so probably jumped higher a little bit in ’04, because I got at least six inches off the ground then. But it’s a very emotional deal and the putt on the last hole, I can’t sure if it was going to hang in there. It looked like it was going to fight to stay in the right side of the hole, and I wasn’t sure if it would go in. So I just kind of dropped down to my knees and when it went in, just that excitement just propelled me up. Usually I need a little assistance.”
Mickelson can make it barely off the ground as many times as he’d as long as he continues to deliver Ryder Cup wins. However, at 46 years old, Hazeltine will likely be Mickelson’s last Ryder Cup as a player (captain). You can be sure he’ll be involved with the American team between now and the eight years until the 2024 Ryder Cup, when it’s held at Bethpage Black, just outside NYC, where it’s believed Mickelson will have his opportunity to officially captain the U.S. team.