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Paul McGinley, the mastermind of Europe’s 2014 Ryder Cup victory at Gleneagles, believes that Phil Mickelson may live to regret his criticism of American skipper Tom Watson when his turn to captain the side comes around.
Mickelson was widely condemned for using the US team’s losing press conference at Gleneagles to take eight-time major champion Watson to task for his handling of the team that year.
According to Mickelson, none of the players were involved in any of the decision-making that week, adding that the USA had “strayed from a winning formula”.
The ensuing fallout prompted the formation of the Americans’ much-vaunted ‘Task Force’, which helped deliver victory at Hazeltine in 2016, before Thomas Bjorn’s Europeans inflicted a 17½-10½ victory on the US in the most recent match at Le Golf National in 2018.
In a wide-ranging Ryder Cup chat in the latest edition of bunkered, issue 182, McGinley offered his take on the Mickelson-Watson spat and the way it unfolded.
“We’d heard rumours that week that the Americans weren’t getting on and that Tom was very authoritarian in his approach to the job,” said the Irishman. “Phil then had a right go at him in the post-match press conference and all hell broke loose.
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“Look, of course I felt sad for him. Tom captained the way he saw fit. There’s no one ‘right way’ of captaining. He was authoritarian but that’s just his personality. There are no grey areas with Tom Watson. It’s black or it’s white. A lot of the players didn’t like that. They took the view that it was a different era and that things had changed from when Tom had been in his pomp.
“Many of the American players seemed to resent that and none more so than Mickelson.”
McGinley added that Mickelson’s timing of the criticism was wrong, and used the European team’s behaviour following the 2008 defeat to the US at Valhalla to help illustrate his point.
“Of course it was wrong for him to bring it all up at the press conference,” he said. “There’s a time and a place.
“In 2008, when things went wrong for us, not one player stood up at the press conference and blamed Nick Faldo. Everybody closed ranks, even though they had lots to say. Even now, you won’t hear any players criticise Nick’s captaincy.
“So of course it was wrong of Phil to do that. Of course it was. It was unedifying to bring down one of the greats of the game, only half an hour after the final putt. But that’s Phil’s way. He shoots from the hip. He’s very opinionated.”
Mickelson has been tipped to get his shot as US captain in 2025 when the match goes to Bethpage in New York. When that time comes around, McGinley expects the five-time major champion might reflect differently on his treatment of Watson.
He added: “Phil called for a ‘Task Force’. He called for a new system. He called for getting more control over everything that goes on at and around a Ryder Cup. The PGA of America agreed, delivered everything that he and the Task Force wanted.
“They won in 2016 and then went over to Paris two years later and lost by a bigger margin than Tom Watson’s team had lost at Gleneagles. And yet nobody said, ‘Wait a minute, Phil. You said in 2014 that if you got control you’d fix everything. But here we are now, four years later, and you’ve lost by a bigger margin. What do you have to say about that?’
“Tom could easily have done that. He could have gone on the Golf Channel and said, ‘I’ve got a question for Phil Mickelson’. But he didn’t. He took the high ground.
“You know, what goes around comes around and it will be interesting to see how Phil approaches it when he is captain. Whenever that time comes, he’s going to be under a lot of pressure because of what happened at Gleneagles.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH PAUL McGINLEY – “THE RYDER CUP AND ME” – IN ISSUE 182 OF BUNKERED, ON-SALE NOW.
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