It’s hard to forget the Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods super team at the 2004 Ryder Cup. The world’s two best players should have been unbeatable. Except they weren’t.
U.S. Captain Hal Sutton hoped to lock up two points with this formidable team, but Tiger and Phil instead went 0-2 at Oakland Hills. With the team leaders unable to score points, the rout was on and Europe manhandled the USA that year, winning 18.5-9.5.
Fans haven’t forgotten, nor has Mickelson, who brought it up after a question about leadership in Wednesday morning’s press conference.
Asked about the importance of the team captain, Mickelson started rather innocently:
“It all starts with the captain. I mean, that’s the guy that has to bring together 12 strong individuals and bring out their best and allow them on a platform to play their best. That’s the whole foundation of the team. You’re saying — I understand and I hear — well, guys just need to play better or they just need to putt better. Absolutely you do.
“But you play how you prepare. And in major championships, when we win or play well in majors, it’s because we prepared properly for those events. And that allowed to us bring out our best golf. And in a Ryder Cup, you have to prepare properly for the event.
“Now, I see these looks, like what are you talking about. Let me give you an example, if I may …”
And with that, Mickelson opened up about his ill-fated pairing with Woods, detailing why their partnership was doomed to failure.
“Twelve years ago, okay, in 2004, Tiger and I were paired together and we ended up not playing well. And was that really the — was that the problem? I mean, maybe. But we were told two days before that we were playing together. And that gave us no time to work together and prepare.
“He found out the year before when we played at The Presidents Cup in 2003 that the golf ball I was playing was not going to work for him. He plays a very high-spin ball and I play a very low-spin ball, and we had to come up in two days with a solution.
“So I grabbed a couple dozen of his balls, I went off to the side, and tried to learn his golf ball in a four- or five-hour session on kind of an isolated — one of the other holes out there trying to find out how far the ball goes. And it forced me to stop my preparation for the tournament, to stop chipping and stop putting and stop sharpening my game and stop learning the golf course, in an effort to crash-course and learn a whole different golf ball that we were going to be playing.
“And in the history of my career, I have never ball-tested two days prior to a major. I’ve never done it. It doesn’t allow me to play my best. What allows me to play my best is to learn the course, sharpen my touch on the greens, sharpen my chipping out of the rough and ball striking and so forth.
“Instead, I’m taking four or five hours and I’m out trying to learn another ball to allow us to play our best. Had we known a month in advance, we might have been able to make it work. I think we probably would have made it work. But we didn’t know until two days prior.
“Now, I loved — I’m not trying to throw — to knock anybody here, because I actually loved how decisive Captain Sutton was. I feel like that’s a sign of great leadership to be decisive. Had we had time to prepare, I think we would have made it work and could have had some success.
“But that’s an example of starting with the captain, that put us in a position to fail and we failed monumentally, absolutely. But to say, well, you just need to play better; that is so misinformed because you will play how you prepare.”
Mickelson is known for his candor, but there’s something about the Ryder Cup that turns it up a notch.