Another day at the Ryder Cup, another drama surrounding Phil Mickelson. Twenty-four hours after claiming that the 2004 US captain, Hal Sutton, had “prepared the team to fail”, the former Open champion was back in the spotlight at Hazeltine as he issued an apology.
The “sorry” card was played by Mickelson as Ted Bishop, the former PGA of America president, claimed the most experienced player in Ryder Cup history was setting himself up for a fall after his remarks about Sutton’s captaincy followed the public slaughtering of Tom Watson at Gleneagles two years ago.
Mickelson used Sutton’s captaincy at Oakland Hills in Detroit 12 years ago to try to illustrate how he feels American teams have been unprepared for the biennial event over the past two decades, having lost eight of the 10 matches in that time.
Recalling how Sutton had only told him and Tiger Woods, the world’s top two players at the time, that they’d be playing together on the opening day less than 48 hours beforehand, he said: “That’s an example of starting with the captain, that put us in a position to fail and we failed monumentally. You will play how you prepare.”
On learning that he’d joined Watson, who was heavily criticised by the left-hander immediately after a five-point defeat in Perthshire, in being thrown under the Team USA bus by Mickelson, Sutton hit back with his own views.
“Phil created a lot of drama that week, if we remember, because he switched his clubs and his ball prior to that week,” Sutton told GolfChannel.com. “It was very self-serving for him to do that prior to the Ryder Cup in 2004. So, if he needs me to shoulder the blame for his poor play, I can do that.”
Whether it was on his own volition or he’d been instructed to by Davis Love III, the American captain for this week’s event, is unclear, but Mickelson moved to try to defuse the situation on the final practice day at Hazeltine.
“I’ve communicated with him [Hal Sutton],” he said. “It was never meant to be like that, I was trying to use an example of how a captain can have a strong effect. Unfortunately it came across the way it did. I feel awful and I want him to be out here and to be a part of this, so I’ve communicated with him that I’m sorry and I hope he stays. I was totally in the wrong. I never should have brought that up. I used an extreme example of the way decisions can affect play and I never should have done that because it affected Hal.”
Bishop, the man who led the campaign to have Watson as captain at Gleneagles, took to Twitter to voice his opinions on the matter. “Lots of golf fans can’t wait for Phil to be Ryder Cup captain after trashing another former captain,” he wrote. “What comes around goes around.”
Paul McGinley, the winning European captain in 2014, said he felt Mickelson had not deliberately tried to be critical of Sutton but admitted the episode had been the last thing Love probably needed as Team USA hope to come up with a winning formula after suffering three consecutive defeats in the event.
“As a captain, this is a very tricky time,” said the Irishman. “The last week is a very tricky time for Ryder Cup captains, because there are a lot of people talking and making points. This is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – show in golf at the moment. You have to be very careful where you are positioning and every word that you say, particularly as a captain.
“I made a big point of avoiding it [the drama]. You can’t totally limit it… You don’t want distractions. It’s almost impossible to control but you can try to limit it as much as you can. I really genuinely think that Phil was not trying to bring Hal down yesterday. He used a bad example and got caught.”
McGinley, who played in the 2004 match, which a European side led by Bernhard Langer won by a record nine-point margin, added: “I learned a lot of humility from Hal Sutton myself. For example, when we left on the Monday morning, we left to get a flight back to Europe, Hal Sutton and his wife came down into our lobby and shook every one of our hands and wished us the best of luck. That was after a heavy defeat. For that reason, I have massive respect for what Hal Sutton did.”