Of course he knew what was coming. Phil Mickelson is playing in his 10th Ryder Cup so he understood full well the brouhaha he would create when he took center stage at Gleneagles and needled the European team.
The Fleet Street press had been itching for a fight all week, going so far as to call Rickie Fowler’s USA haircut – a relative staple of international sporting events these days – “thuggish jingoism.”
So when Mickelson made a pointed joke about Rory McIlroy’s legal entanglements with Horizon Sports Management, a battle that now involves former Horizon client and shareholder Graeme McDowell, the reaction was as predictable as the Scottish sunrise.
Mickelson had been asked about the U.S. team’s perceived inability to jell – an old saw that has been trotted out before every Ryder Cup for the past quarter century.
“Well, not only are we able to play together, we also don’t litigate against each other,” he said. “That’s a real plus, I feel, heading into this week.”
The room erupted with laughter, after which Mickelson smiled, winked and said, “I couldn’t resist. Sorry. Go ahead.”
Reaction was swift and hilariously predictable.
“Phil Mickelson has fired the first fusillade of the 40th Ryder Cup with an extraordinary barb at Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, suggesting that their ongoing court case was disrupting European team unity,” Oliver Brown wrote in The Telegraph.
Others suggested that Mickelson’s remarks were retaliation for the quips McIlroy made at the Tour Championship, where he said Tiger Woods and Mickelson are on the back nines of their respective careers.
Maybe, although most of us who have reported on Mickelson for the past 20 years stopped trying to figure out how his mind works long ago. He probably was trying to inject a little humor into what, to this point, has been a relatively bland preamble, while also asserting himself as leader of the American team.
But a more likely explanation came from Fowler, who grinned when asked about Mickelson’s comments before saying, “Phil’s always Phil. That’s why we love him.”