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NAPA, Calif. – When U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker announced that Phil Mickelson would be one of his vice captains at the 43rd Ryder Cup, it was the end of an era.
Mickelson represented Team USA at his first international competition as a pro at the 1994 Presidents Cup and hadn’t missed a Ryder Cup since 1995 at Oak Hill. Despite his victory at the PGA Championship in May, Mickelson conceded that his game has lacked consistency. Still, it’s a rarity for a major winner not to make the team. In fact, the last American to win a major and be left off the Ryder Cup team was Todd Hamilton, who claimed the British Open in 2004.
What will Mickelson bring to the table as a vice captain next week? He answered by telling a story:
“I remember on the 18th hole at Memorial, the Presidents Cup in 2013, coming down the last match, we’re tied. I’m playing with Keegan, alternate shot. He’s up ahead of me walking with Captain Couples and I hit one in there about 12 feet. Keegan’s nervous and Fred puts his arm around him and says, ‘Isn’t this the best?’ Like this is the best moment, this is what we’re wanting to be, the position we’re wanting to be in, isn’t this fun?” Mickelson recalled. “Keegan, you could see him just kind of breathe again, knocks that putt in. Graham DeLaet holed a chip shot right in front of him, Keegan knocks it right on top of him for a tie. Captain Couples had – there’s been a lot of great captains, but that’s an example of one thing where a captain can make a difference on a player’s emotional state.”
Mickelson spent Sunday and Monday at Whistling Straits as part of Team USA’s course reconnaissance mission and said the trip was a good bonding experience.
“It’s fun to hang with the guys and to have that time together, but also to be able to now prepare for a week knowing what to expect, who you’re going to play with, golf balls, if you might change,” he said. “You have a week to get ready.”
Just don’t expect Mickelson to come out of the bullpen if the team needs a 13th man to replace an injured or ill team member.
“I don’t see that happening,” he said. “I mean, I’m hopeful that we’re all being responsible and staying safe and not having any COVID issues.”
Mickelson said that the Fortinet Championship will be his final PGA Tour start of 2021, though he will make an appearance on the PGA Tour Champions to play in the Furyk & Friends in Jacksonville, Florida, in October. Other than that, he enjoyed cracking jokes about the one-week layoff between the FedEx Cup finale in Atlanta and the start of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season this week. As he departed his press conference, he turned and said, “Everybody have a good year. Good to see you. Thanks for being here.”
Moments earlier, Mickelson laid it on even thicker saying, “after a long offseason, you don’t really know how your game is. You could be very rusty after this week off.”
He smiled that goofy Mickelson grin and added that he had work to do on his game. “I don’t want to wait another week,” he said, “I want to get started.”