THE previous time Phil Mickelson had been sitting a few feet away from the United States Ryder Cup captain, he essentially stuck the knife into Tom Watson for his part in a 16½-11½ defeat at Gleneagles last September.
It was brave, therefore, that Davis Love III faced the cameras with his back to Mickelson as the 2012 captain was re-appointed by the PGA of America for next year’s match in Minnesota, but he knew, of course, that there was no chance of that astonishing episode in Perthshire being repeated.
Mickelson, you see, knew he’d been successful in achieving his aim that fateful Sunday evening, even if his remarks at the time had been fuelled more by anger than anything else after being unused by his captain in either of the second-day sessions.
The series of announcements made on Tuesday may have been agreed after listening to the soundings of an 11-man “task force”. They were the direct result, though, of Mickelson, a member of that group along with Tiger Woods, speaking out in Scotland.
In doing so – and his one mistake was perhaps doing so in public rather than behind closed doors – the 2013 Open champion has got the Americans to finally come to terms with the fact they’ve been caught with their pants down in the Ryder Cup due to the way Europe now operates in the biennial bunfight.
Almost every change that is being made by the PGA of America in a bid to improve a record that has yielded just two wins in the last ten matches bears close resemblance to the famous template implemented so successfully by Paul McGinley at Gleneagles. For starters, Love was handed the captaincy for next year due to the fact he has experience, albeit as a losing leader at Medinah two years ago. McGinley, of course, had been groomed for the European job as both a Seve Trophy captain and Ryder Cup vice-captain.
Going forward, the Americans will have four vice-captains – two former captains and the other two experienced Ryder Cup players. All five of McGinley’s right-hand men in Perthshire were in those two categories. In addition, a new six-man committee, which features Love, Mickelson and Woods as well as leading PGA of America officials, will be responsible for making key Ryder Cup decisions for the US going forward.
Again, that looks as if it has been based on the five-man panel that last week picked Darren Clarke as Europe’s next captain, though how predictable that the Americans have gone for Mickelson and Woods as the two player representatives when neither can boast very much about the Ryder Cup with just three match wins between them in a combined 17 appearances.
“I’m excited about where we are now and I’m excited about the direction where we are headed, not just into 2016 but really for the next ten or 20 years,” said Mickelson amidst a welter of words spoken to herald what is being hailed as a new era for the Americans. “I’m excited about the next generation of players, Rickie [Fowler], Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed and guys that are going to be on the upcoming teams that will have input in who their captain will be; how it’s captained, who the vice-captains are and the entire process. I think it will be a very positive experience for all the players and a very exciting opportunity over the next ten Ryder Cups to hopefully improve on the record that we have been limping home with.”
In effect, the Americans are trying to establish some continuity in terms of the captain and his backroom team. “We were getting captains every two years with their own ideas and a totally different game plan which was challenging for the players,” admitted Mickelson.
Whether Love, through his connection with the players at Medinah, can deliver instant success remains to be seen, of course, and, at long last, the Americans seem to have acknowledged they are facing a formidable force. “Let’s not forget who we are up against,” said PGA of America president Derek Sprague. “The European team is strong and will continue to be a formidable opponent.”
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