Opinion: Are we watching Mickelson's Ryder Cup?
The extraordinary story of what could yet be known as Phil Mickelson’s Ryder Cup can be tracked all the way back to Oak Hill in 1995.
That was when he played in the first of his eight – and counting – Ryder Cup defeats.
Since then there have been 20 years of accumulated misery, occasionally interspersed with a couple of wins on home soil in 1999 and 2008. Capped off by that unforgettable public disownment of his captain, none other than Tom Watson, last time out.
In the weird, fertile, bubbling environment of Mickelson’s mind, all that has been converted into what you see this week, both on and off the course,
Davis Love is officially the captain but you wonder if Mickelson hasn’t had as much influence.
He really has tried everything in his power to contort this match into a personal and national triumph – Mickelson’s Ryder Cup.
And this despite his long game looking more erratic that at any time in his long and distinguished professional career.
Mickelson effectively took ownership of this week in that infamous Gleneagles press conference in the immediate aftermath of another American defeat.
This is a man who, along with the likes of Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, has carried the can for an unprecedented period of European dominance.
Mickelson’s Ryder Cup
Why is it, the left-hander’s countrymen want to know, that the outstanding individuals on the PGA Tour on a weekly basis can’t get the job done in the Ryder Cup? How is it that the Westwoods, Garcias, Montgomeries and Poulters of this world, who haven’t won a Major between them, are able to compile outstanding career records while Mickelson and Woods have both lost many more matches than they have won?
Well, according to Mickelson, one big reason is that American captains have not been as cute as their European counterparts.
And with that he launched into his 2004 captain, Hal Sutton, for only giving him and Tiger 48 hours’ notice that they were playing foursomes together. The problem being that Phil had to get used to Tiger’s considerably higher-spinning ball.
Never mind the fact that Mickelson had changed all his clubs, and his ball, the week before when moving from Titleist to Callaway.
The day later, Mickelson apologised. We’ll never know whether it was something he had been meaning to get off his chest for a decade and more or it just slipped out in the heat of the moment.
Given that he had been unable to find a fairway at East Lake the week before, we presumed that a foursomes gig was unlikely. He would be asked, instead, to partner a rookie like Brooks Koepka in the fourballs.
Mickelson’s Ryder Cup
But this is Mickelson’s Ryder Cup and there he was on Friday morning alongside another Californian struggling with his game in Rickie Fowler.
In the early stages of their game against Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan, they were in disarray. The lowlight came on the par-5 6th when Phil hooked one out of bounds. Rickie came so close to doing the same that Phil had to play their fourth right-handed with the ball up against the fence.
And yet fight back they did, with three straight birdies, and then closed the match out with two more at the end for an unlikely win.
No matter how poorly he is playing, no matter how ragged he appears, you can never write off man with a short game as good as Phil’s. Or one with such a sense of occasion.
Bizarrely, Phil then took the afternoon off before resuming with Rickie in Saturday’s foursomes. You would have thought that a fourballs outing was much more appealing and then a rest but not so.
Again, he was called on to hit a shot right-handed. Again, they struggled to locate fairways and greens. And again they hauled Rory and his partner, this time Thomas Pieters, back after being down early on.
Mickelson’s personal highlight came at the short 8th. He bolted in a 50-footer for par that bounced up off the back of the hole before plopping in.
If he couldn’t shape the game with his own play, then he would try desperately hard to get under the Europeans’ skin.
Mickelson’s Ryder Cup
For some reason, he appointed himself referee when Pieters and McIlroy found trouble on the 10th. He patronisingly advised the Belgian to declare a provisional. Then accompanied his opponents to the shores of Lake Chaska while they found the original tee shot. Two holes later, he again wandered towards them only to be told my Rory that they were “fine over here, thanks, Phil”.
This time, though, their largely scrappy play caught up with them and it was a 4&2 loss.
Was that it for Phil before the singles? An afternoon on the range beckoned ahead of the singles.
Not a bit of it. Matt Kuchar, of all people, was his partner. While the Europeans were playing the better stuff from tee to green, the Americans were much more impressive on the greens, establishing an early lead.
All in all, there were six Mickelson birdies, interspersed with some typically erratic tee shots. It was too much for Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer and so it is two points out of three over the first two days.
And so the quest continues with one more match to come for the old-stager. At 46, perhaps even his last one in the Ryder Cup. Who would back against him signing off on a personal high, having finally got the team organised the way he likes it. Namely, his way. In Mickelson’s Ryder Cup.