• 'Lefty' takes Hal Sutton to task for 2004 blunder
• Sutton disastrously paired Mickelson & Tiger - twice
• "You will play how you prepare" says Phil in superb rant
What is it with Phil Mickelson and taking pot-shots at US Ryder Cup captains?
Two years ago at Gleneagles, it was Tom Watson on the receiving end. Now, as he prepares to play in his 11th match at Hazeltine this week, the left-hander has aimed a barb at the 2004 skipper Hal Sutton.
Sutton, you may or may not recall, paired-up Mickelson and Tiger Woods in both sessions on the opening day of the 2004 match at Oakland Hills.
The move raised eyebrows, not least because of the pair’s reportedly strained relationship following comments made by Mickelson in 2003 about Woods playing with ‘inferior equipment’.
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Still, it was Sutton’s belief that putting the two out together would help the US get off to a fast start. It could have been a masterstroke. Instead, it backfired spectacularly when they went down 2&1 in the opening fourballs match at the hands of Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, before Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood beat them one-up in the third match of the afternoon foursomes.
"We were told two days before that we were playing together" - Phil Mickelson
The US trailed 6½-1½ at the end of the opening day’s play and, ultimately, were handed an 18½-9½ thrashing – their worst-ever Ryder Cup defeat on home soil.
So, today, when asked how much of a difference a captain makes, Mickelson had this to say:
“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 play how you prepare. In major championships, when we win or play well, 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.”
He elaborated using the example of he and Woods’ disastrous partnership. WARNING: if you are Hal Sutton or a member of the Sutton family, you might not like what follows. To everybody else, grab the popcorn because this is brilliant:
“Twelve years ago, in 2004, Tiger and I were paired together and we ended up not playing well. 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.
“ 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 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’m not trying 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.”
He wasn’t done, either:
“I've had to be accountable for that decision 12 years ago. Even a month ago, I hear there's an analyst on the Golf Channel that accuses me of being a non team player for having to go out and work on an isolated hole away from the team, away from my preparation.
“I've had to be accountable for that decision of which I was not a part. That's a very frustrating thing. I don't know if you can imagine how frustrating it would be to care so much about something like I do about the Ryder Cup and be accountable for many of the decisions that have taken place when you're not a part of those decisions.”
Given his record, Mickelson is a shoo-in to be a Ryder Cup captain one day, perhaps in 2020 at Whistling Straits or 2024 at Bethpage. When that day comes, he better get it right or brace himself for some "It's not as easy as it looks" texts.
Hal Sutton has issued a response to Mickelson's rant, branding him 'self-serving'. Read the full story here.
Phil Mickelson's Ryder Cup record
Phil Mickelson has played in 42 matches across ten previous Ryder Cups, winning 16 times, losing 19, and halving seven.