What's it like to take on Mickelson at the Ryder Cup – and win?
The build-up to your Ryder Cup debut should be one full of excitement and anticipation. For Phillip Price it was anything but.
The Welshman qualified for Sam Torrance’s side by virtue of a string of high finishes and a win in Portugal but then came the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the matches were put back by 12 months.
The year that followed brought a loss of form, missed cuts and plenty of self-doubt.
“It was very difficult because normally the likelihood is your form is very high,” he said. “Having to wait a year there will be inevitably a few players who won’t be in form, time has gone on, and I was one of those. I wondered if it might help me having more time to prepare but it made it worse and it played on my mind all year. I could see I wasn’t playing very well and, being a rookie, I was more than aware that the biggest week of my life was coming up.”
It was even suggested Price should pull out but Torrance was quick to make the rookie feel part of a team that also included three other new boys: Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke and Paul McGinley.
“I heard one comment that said, ‘Do you think you should withdraw from the Ryder Cup?’ I was quite hurt. I was surprised at the whole attitude of the press, they made out that we didn’t really have a chance but everyone in the team room, and I don’t know whether Sam instigated this, but I never got the feeling that we were ever going to lose or that we were underdogs.
“I knew the week before I would be rested the first day so I knew when to be ready for and who I would be playing with (Price would be alongside Fulke). We took all the money in a Ryder Cup foursomes get-together in May after going round in 11-under.
“On the first day Sam said, ‘I want you guys down on the 1st tee to see what the crowd would be like and to try and get a little bit prepared’.”
The home side sneak ahead by a point after two wins from Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood and so the moment came on the Saturday morning when Price and Fulke would take on Phil Mickelson and David Toms.
“Darren Clarke had given me some words of advice. He said I would be more nervous than I had ever been so be ready for it. That was a huge help to think that you’re not the only one. It was very nerve-wracking but I was very prepared for it as I had gone through it in my mind so many times.”
Price was spared the opening tee shot and the Swede and Welshman played beautifully on the front nine. After 11 they were one up, but the match quickly turned on it head with an eagle on 15 helping the visitors to a 2&1 win.
“I had played very well, and I was good in practice, I thought the course suited me more than Phil and that I had quite a good chance. My concern was less with who I was playing in the singles, but where I was playing, and I was number 11 – where the Ryder Cup usually comes down to. I thought they would put me in the middle somewhere and keep me away from all of that, now it could come down to me and I wasn’t sure if I was ready.”
As it turned out, the scores would be level and Price would be going head-to-head with Mickelson. The world No. 119 would face the second best player on the planet.
“We found out Saturday night. Sam, Mark James and Ian Woosnam came in all very excited about the way the draw had come out. I think they planned it exactly in order of who was playing the best while the Americans had their big names at the bottom.”
With Colin Montgomerie leading the way with a crushing win over Scott Hoch, and Bernhard Langer, Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjorn following suit, things started promisingly but the match continued to remain in the balance.
Price, down in the penultimate pairing, was doing his bit.
“I was one up after five and I was nearly in the water at the 6th,” he recalled. “I was standing in the hazard with him two feet from the pin, and me halfway down the shaft of an 8-iron with the ball miles above me. I managed to hit it to three or four feet and holed it, I was going to give him his but then thought I’ll just have a look at it and he missed.
“All of a sudden I was two up. He must have been a little bit startled as he three-putted the next and the rest of the day I was just hanging on for dear life.”
Mickelson hit back with a birdie at the 9th, Price responded with a three at the 10th. The pair came to the 16th with the rookie still ahead by two and 25 feet away from the hole. In one of the most memorable moments in the history of the competition all the emotion of the past 13 months came flooding out.
“It was such a relief, I was three up and hanging on so just relief that I had won my point and it was over. You can tell from my reaction that I was rather excited and a few swear words may have slipped out,” Price said.
“It was so hard just to hang on from the 7th. To make the putt on 16 was, well, I didn’t think I had it in me but it was awfully nice to find out that I did. With the press saying I was out of form, which was pretty true, and to be able to hole a putt in the singles when it mattered more to me than anything you can imagine, I’m pretty proud of myself.”
Soon after, McGinley holed the 10-footer to win back the trophy.
“I didn’t stay up all night, some of them looked like they did, but we had a great time. We started on the roof spraying champagne bottles, moved to the clubhouse where all the supporters were and ended up in the team room dancing and drinking.
“David Duval was with us all night. We had a brilliant, brilliant night.”