Mick­el­son prom­ises pre­pared U.S. team

Has crit­i­cized Amer­i­can cap­tains in past

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

CHASKA, MINN. >> Two days be­fore the Ry­der Cup, Phil Mick­el­son went back 12 years to drive home a point that the Amer­i­cans are pre­pared to play their best golf.

And along the way, he dis­par­aged yet an­other former cap­tain.

This time, his tar­get was Hal Sut­ton.

Mick­el­son was the catalyst for change at the last Ry­der Cup when he pub­licly ques­tioned Tom Watson’s heavy-handed style — with Watson sit­ting at the same ta­ble — af­ter an­other Amer­i­can loss at Gle­nea­gles. That led to the PGA of Amer­ica creat­ing a task force al­low­ing for 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.”

In a con­ver­sa­tion Wed­nes­day on how much a cap­tain mat­ters in the Ry­der Cup, Mick­el­son looked across the room and said, “Let me give you an ex­am­ple, if I may.”

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 put Mick­el­son and Tiger Woods to­gether for the first time. They lost two matches in one day.

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.”

Sut­ton was be­mused that Mick­el­son would bring that up now.

“My God, some­body’s got to be the fall guy,” he told Golfweek mag­a­zine. “If it needs to be me, I can be that. I don’t have any­thing to say to that. My God. The world saw what hap­pened. They saw it. I didn’t have to cover it up . ... I find it amus­ing that that’s an is­sue at the 2016 Ry­der Cup. I think Phil bet­ter get his mind on what he needs to have it on this week in­stead of on some­thing that hap­pened 10 years ago . ...

“It couldn’t be their fault,” he said. “It had to be some­body else’s fault. It had to be Hal Sut­ton’s fault. Had to be.”

U.S. cap­tain Davis Love III said Mick­el­son was only try­ing to set the record straight be­cause “some an­a­lysts just keep bring­ing it up over and over and over again,” though Mick­el­son men­tioned Oak­land Hills un­prompted in his news con­fer­ence.

And Mick­el­son failed to men­tion that he switched equip­ment from Titleist to Call­away a week be­fore the matches.

“Hal was an in­cred­i­ble cap­tain,” said Love, who played on that team and went 1-3-1. “I think Phil is look­ing for­ward to what’s hap­pened over the last year and we’ve learned a lot from all of our past cap­tains on how we need to do this to­gether.”

He said Sut­ton was with the U.S. team on Tues­day night and “it was an in­spi­ra­tion to see him.”

Mick­el­son is more op­ti­mistic than ever that the Amer­i­cans 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 about 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.

Love 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.”

DAVID J. PHILLIP — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Phil Mick­el­son signs au­to­graphs dur­ing a prac­tice round for the Ry­der Cup at Hazel­tine Na­tional Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. on Wed­nes­day.

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