Mick­el­son prom­ises U.S. team pre­pared

Amer­i­cans look to end Euro­pean dom­i­nance as Ry­der Cup be­gins

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

Phil Mick­el­son crit­i­cized an­other past Ry­der Cup cap­tain Wednes­day in ex­plain­ing why he thinks this Amer­i­can team will be pre­pared to play its best.

Mick­el­son was the cat­a­lyst for change in 2014 when he pub­licly ques­tioned Tom Wat­son’s heavy­handed role — with Wat­son sit­ting at the same ta­ble — af­ter an­other Amer­i­can loss at Gle­nea­gles. That led to the PGA of Amer­ica cre­at­ing a task force that al­lowed for more player in­volve­ment.

“When you look back on what the dif­fer­ence is, when play­ers are put in a po­si­tion to suc­ceed, more of­ten than not they tend to suc­ceed,” Mick­el­son said. “And when they are put in po­si­tions to fail, most of the time they tend to fail.”

That opened the con­ver­sa­tion of how much a cap­tain can mean in the Ry­der Cup with­out hit­ting a shot or mak­ing a putt.

“Let me give you an ex­am­ple, if I may,” Mick­el­son said, stop­ping just short of wag­ging his fin­ger.

He went back to 2004 when the Amer­i­cans suf­fered their worst loss ever in the Ry­der Cup at Oak­land Hills. Noth­ing il­lus­trated their fail­ure more than when U.S. cap­tain Hal Sut­ton sent out Mick­el­son and Tiger Woods twice. It was their first time play­ing to­gether, and they lost both matches.

Mick­el­son was lam­pooned that week for prac­tic­ing on an ad­ja­cent course as he tried to ad­just to the golf ball used by Woods.

“We ended up not play­ing well. Was that the prob­lem? I mean, maybe,” Mick­el­son said. “But we were told two days be­fore that we were play­ing to­gether, and that gave us no time to work to­gether and pre­pare.”

Mick­el­son said hav­ing to learn how to hit a dif­fer­ent golf ball forced him to aban­don his own prepa­ra­tions to get sharp.

“In the his­tory of my ca­reer, I have never ball-tested two days prior to a ma­jor,” Mick­el­son said. “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.”

Mick­el­son said he wasn’t try­ing to knock Sut­ton — he said he liked how de­ci­sive Sut­ton was that week.

“But that’s an ex­am­ple of start­ing with the cap­tain.

That put us in a po­si­tion to fail. And we failed mon­u­men­tally, ab­so­lutely,” he said. “But to say, ‘Well, you just need to play bet­ter,’ that is so mis­in­formed. Be­cause you will play how you pre­pare.”

Mick­el­son is more op­ti­mistic than ever that the Amer­i­can can end two decades of fu­til­ity against Europe, which has won eight of the last 10 times. Mick­el­son is play­ing his record 11th straight Ry­der Cup, qual­i­fy­ing for ev­ery one of those teams, yet he has been on the win­ning side only twice.

Two years ago, he was vis­i­bly an­gry af­ter the loss at Gle­nea­gles for the U.S. get­ting away from what worked un­der Paul Azinger in a rare 2008 vic­tory, and what seems to work ev­ery year at the Pres­i­dents Cup against an in­ter­na­tional team that is not nearly as for­mi­da­ble as Europe.

Davis Love III was cap­tain at Me­d­i­nah in 2012 when the Amer­i­cans had a 10-6 lead go­ing into sin­gles, only to win three of the 12 sin­gles matches as Europe ral­lied to win. Mick­el­son and Woods were part of that task force that agreed to bring Love back.

“This is a year where we feel as though Cap­tain Love has been putting us in a po­si­tion to suc­ceed,” Mick­el­son said. “He’s taken in­put from all par­ties. He’s mak­ing de­ci­sions that have al­lowed us to pre­pare our best and play our best, and I be­lieve that we will play our best.”

Just don’t get the idea Mick­el­son is pre­dict­ing a vic­tory.

He con­sid­ered Euro­pean teams that for years have got­ten their best out of play­ers who don’t nec­es­sar­ily thrive in the ma­jors or rise in the world rank­ing, yet de­liver their best

golf ev­ery two years in the Ry­der Cup.

“We are play­ing a very strong Euro­pean team, and I don’t know what that means re­sults-wise,” he said. “But our best golf will come out this week, and that’s our goal.”

Mick­el­son is so in­volved in the Ry­der Cup, from the task force to be­ing part of the new Ry­der Cup Com­mit­tee, that Brandt Snedeker con­sid­ers him part of the lead­er­ship of this Amer­i­can team.

“Phil to me is a vice cap­tain,” Snedeker said. “He’s in there 100 per­cent. That’s in­fec­tious in the team room, when you have that many guys car­ing about one com­mon goal and they are the best play­ers of our gen­er­a­tion. You’d bet­ter be­lieve it’s go­ing to mo­ti­vate the rest of us to make sure we care as much and get our butts in gear. Tired of los­ing this thing.”

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