As usual, Mickelson free with his opin­ions

Vet­eran hopes to prod U.S. into end­ing loss streak

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Art Span­der

CHASKA, MINN. — He’s one of 12, a mem­ber of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. In truth he’s one and only, a chance-taker, a cham­pion, a right-han­der who plays left-handed.

Phil Mickelson will take a swing at any­thing, lit­er­ally with a club — it’s only 230 yards across the water — or fig­u­ra­tively with his sug­ges­tions.

The 41st Cup matches start to­day at Hazel­tine Na­tional Golf Club 20 miles south­west of Min­ne­ap­o­lis. Maybe the tour­na­ment will be­long to Dustin John­son or Jor­dan Spi­eth, Justin Rose or Henrik Stenson.

So far, with­out a shot be­ing hit ex­cept in prac­tice, it has be­longed to Mickelson.

He has ex­plained why the United States has lost three Ryder Cups in a row and 10 of 12, and be­rated one for­mer cap­tain, Hal Sut­ton from 2004, and an­other, Tom Wat­son from 2014.

He has dom­i­nated team meet­ings, even though for a sec­ond time Davis Love III is the cap­tain — which, by the way, was be­cause Mickelson thought it was a smart idea.

“Phil al­ways has a the­ory,” Love said. Or as an­a­lyzed by team mem­ber Brandt Snedeker, “Phil be­ing Phil.”

Af­ter all, this is the 11th straight Ryder Cup for Mickelson, and even if his over­all record is only 16-19-6, he’s the voice of ex­pe­ri­ence, if not al­ways of rea­son.

Been there, done that. And won ev­ery ma­jor ex­cept the U.S. Open, where he has been sec­ond on six oc­ca­sions. That means some­thing. Maybe it means ev­ery­thing.

At 46, the out­spo­ken Mickelson is to golf what Reg­gie Jackson was to base­ball, the self-de­scribed straw that stirs the drink.

He has a great short game. He also has nu­mer­ous opin­ions.

One was that he shouldn’t have been paired with Tiger Woods in four­somes and four-balls at the dis­as­trous ’04 Cup at Oak­land Hills with­out hav­ing had time to test the high-spin ball used by Woods.

“Had we known a month in ad­vance,” said Mickelson, in­dict­ing Sut­ton for the ne­glect, “we might have made it work. But that’s an ex­am­ple, start­ing with the cap­tain, that put us in a po­si­tion to fail, and we failed mon­u­men­tally, ab­so­lutely.”

When Sut­ton was con­tacted, he point- Phil Mickelson, prac­tic­ing Thurs­day, is play­ing in his 11th straight Ryder Cup. ed out that Mickelson was in the process of switch­ing clubs, from Titleist to Callaway, and that Mickelson should be con­cen­trat­ing on the cur­rent matches, not those played 12 years ago. Mickelson of­fered an apol­ogy.

“I was to­tally in the wrong,” Mickelson said.

It’s words so far, but from now on it will be shots and re­sults. Mickelson was a force be­hind the let’s-fix-what’s-wrong task force cre­ated by the PGA of Amer­ica, which ad­min­is­ters the Cup this side of the At­lantic. He got what he wanted. Does the United States get the win it needs?

“I think it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for us to do some­thing spe­cial,” Mickelson said. “We have been given, the first time in 20years that I’ve been in­volved in the Ryder Cup, ac­tual in­put, ac­tual, say, kind of own­er­ship.”

Mickelson, who will be teamed with Rickie Fowler in the first four­somes matches to­day against Rory McIl­roy and Andy Sul­li­van, is com­pet­i­tive to an ex­treme. He’ll gam­ble on go­ing for the green rather than play­ing safe. As is well known, he also gam­bles lit­er­ally. He likes to push an is­sue. And so he’s the man in the mid­dle in this Ryder Cup, the one of which, as he con­cedes, he has “a kind of own­er­ship.”

“I think,” Mickelson said, “that when play­ers are put in po­si­tion to suc­ceed, of­ten­times, more than not, they tend to suc­ceed.

“This is a year where we feel Cap­tain Love has put been putting us in po­si­tion to suc­ceed. He’s taken in­put from all par­ties.”

The most no­tice­able of those par­ties so far be­ing Phil Mickelson. Hazel­tine Na­tional Golf Club Chaska, Minn. Through Sun­day To­day’s TV: Golf Chan­nel, 7:30 a.m.

STREETER LECKA/GETTY IM­AGES

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