Saturday 20 January 2018

Opinion: Why Mickelson was right to criticise Watson

'Phil Mickelson cannot be allowed to present himself as the speaker of truth to power, the man who wants to save America, because the route he chose was a betrayal.' Photo: Harry Engels/Getty Images
'Phil Mickelson cannot be allowed to present himself as the speaker of truth to power, the man who wants to save America, because the route he chose was a betrayal.' Photo: Harry Engels/Getty Images

James Corrigan

For now they lambast, pillory and accuse Phil Mickelson of disrespect, disloyalty and even treachery. But one day they might thank Phil Mickelson.

They might look back on that already infamous press conference in the wake of yet another US Ryder Cup defeat and think that was the moment it all changed. They might look back on the discomfort of Tom Watson as necessary and believe that the backlash suffered by Mickelson in the hours and a days afterwards as merely an inevitable byproduct of speaking the truth about a legend.

Who knows, despite being America's biggest loser, with eight defeats in 10 matches, they might hail him as their Ryder Cup champion. History might well define his decision to provide a withering critique of the US captaincy as extremely brave and not pitifully selfish.

They say the timing was awful, insensitive and brutal. Maybe it was. But if Mickelson's intention was political rather than personal, then his timing may have been key. The world was watching when he launched his attack and after the initial outpouring of sympathy for Watson, the criticisms will still resonate.

The US Ryder Cup cause is in a bigger mess than it has ever been and thanks to Mickelson more people know about it and will come to appreciate it than if he had continued to put a lid on his frustration and aired his views later down the line. In China in October, Abu Dhabi in January or Miami in March there would not be nearly the buzz created as there was at Gleneagles in September.

Of course there was some self-interest at play, but it was understandable self-interest, and self-interest which happened to sum up the entire sorry reign of Watson.

For starters, it made no absolutely no sense to sit out Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for both sessions on Saturday. They had won four of their five in the Ryder Cup together, had accounted for Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia and all their tame defeat to Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson on Friday afternoon screamed of was fatigue, this was a new day and Mickelson had taken a new batch of drugs for his arthritis.

So Mickelson pleaded with Watson to play the pair and when Watson showed some reluctancy, Mickelson asked for an explanation. There was none forthcoming, just a text an hour later. A text? How old is Watson - 15? Who knows maybe he appended :-( on the end just to make Mickelson feel better.

European team players Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy celebrate winning the Ryder Cup
European team players Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy celebrate winning the Ryder Cup
Europe's Sergio Garcia (front) and Rory McIlroy pose with The Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Ian Poulter of Europe poses with the Ryder Cup trophy after the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Europe team captain Paul McGinley poses with the Ryder Cup trophy his team and their partners and wives after the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Europe team captain Paul McGinley poses with the Ryder Cup trophy after the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Jamie Donaldson (L) and Europe team captain Paul McGinley pose with the Ryder Cup trophy after the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Europe team captain Paul McGinley poses with the Ryder Cup trophy, his vice captains and his team after the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Europe's Jamie Donaldson celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Europe team captain Paul McGinley poses with the Ryder Cup trophy and his team after the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Europe's Victor Dubuisson celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Europe's Rory McIlroy celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Europe's Victor Dubuisson celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Europe's Rory McIlroy celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Europe's Rory McIlroy celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Europe team captain Paul McGinley celebrates winning the Ryder Cup during the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Europe's Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez celebrate after winning the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Team Europe golfer Jamie Donaldson kisses his partner Kathryn Tagg as they celebrate him winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Team Europe golfer Rory McIlroy embraces Jamie Donaldson (L) as they celebrate Donaldson winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Team Europe golfer Jamie Donaldson celebrates with champagne after winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Europe's Miguel Angel Jimenez (front right) and Thomas Bjorn celebrate after securing the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
USA's Patrick Reed shakes hands with some Europe fans during the Singles matches on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Team Europe golfer Rory McIlroy (R) and Justin Rose celebrate teammate Jamie Donaldson winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley, to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green, during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Europe's Jamie Donaldson celebrates after Europe win the Ryder Cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Europe's Jamie Donaldson (left) celebrates with captain Paul McGinley after winning the Ryder cup on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Team Europe golfer Jamie Donaldson (R) raises his arms as he celebrates after winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Team Europe golfer Jamie Donaldson (L) celebrates with teammate Rory McIlroy after winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
European Ryder Cup player Rory McIlroy (L) shakes hands with U.S. Ryder Cup player Rickie Fowler after winning 5&4 on the 14th green during the 40th Ryder Cup singles matches at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Team Europe golfer Jamie Donaldson (L) shakes hands with U.S. player Keegan Bradley after winning their match to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Europe's Jamie Donaldson walks down the fifteenth fairway after playing into the green during the Singles matches on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Team Europe players Rory McIlroy (L) and Justin Rose (C) celebrate teammate Jamie Donaldson winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green during their 40th Ryder Cup singles golf match at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
European Ryder Cup player Rory McIlroy celebrates as he wins 5&4 on the 14th green against U.S. Ryder Cup player Rickie Fowler during the 40th Ryder Cup singles matches at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Amy Mickelson and Sybi Kuchar (R), the wives of U.S. Ryder Cup players Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar, high five Team U.S. fans on the second fairway during the 40th Ryder Cup singles matches at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Europe vice captain Miguel Angel Jimenez entertains the crowd on the first tee during the singles matches on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Europe captain Paul McGinley (right) and Sir Alex Ferguson on the first tee during the Singles matches on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Graeme McDowell of Europe celebrates victory against Jordan Spieth of the United States with caddie Ken Comboy on the 17th hole during the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
28 September 2014; Eddie Jordan watching Rory McIlroy, Team Europe, during his Singles Match against Rickie Fowler, Team USA. The 2014 Ryder Cup, Final Day. Gleneagles, Scotland. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Graeme McDowell (R) of Europe celebrates victory against Jordan Spieth of the United States with team mate Rory McIlroy on the 17th hole during the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Europe team captain Paul McGinley shares a joke with Europe team vice captains Jose Maria Olazabal, Sam Torrance, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Des Smyth during the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
28 September 2014; An Irish flag during the Singles Matches. The 2014 Ryder Cup, Final Day. Gleneagles, Scotland. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Team Europe captain Paul McGinley and fans celebrate Jamie Donaldson winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green, during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Europe's Ian Poulter celebrates winning the ninth hole during the Singles matches on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Team Europe golfer Jamie Donaldson embraces his partner Kathryn Tagg as they celebrate him winning his match against U.S. player Keegan Bradley to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe on the 15th green during the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)
USA's Patrick Reed reacts during the singles matches on day three of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles Golf Course, Perthshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 28, 2014. Photo credit should read: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.

Mickelson felt offended, not just because of his experience and standing within the game, but because he thought this symptomatic of the malaise. Watson did not consult with the players at any stage during the week. In school-masterly tones he told them when and with whom they would be playing and, at times, even told them mistruths.

Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth thought they were playing for their foursomes place in Friday's fourballs. And hey, when they won 5&4 they naturally concluded they had done enough. Instead Watson told them, 'no, take a rest', he was sticking to a plan he basically let them believe did not exist. He later apologised for the confusion.

And so Mickelson stood there on the 18th green, having beaten Stephen Gallacher 3&1 in a high-quality encounter which rendered his inaction the previous day even more absurd, reflected on Europe's sixth win in seven matches and answered a question from NBC honestly.

No, he could not understand why Paul Azinger's "winning formula" of 2008 had been ignored by the past three captains, no he could not understand why there had been no cogent gameplan, no he could not understand why the likes of him and Jim Furyk, 18 Ryder Cups between them, had been completely ostracised by Watson when it came to the tactics. It was absurd, a catastrophe of both man-management and golf-management and watching in a Florida bar, Azinger felt his fury.

This had been another let down waiting to happen. Ted Bishop, the PGA of America president, appointed Watson on a vanity project. It was so much less to do with giving the US the best chance of winning and so much more to do with Bishop having a legend as his captain during his term. The ludicrous, over-the-top selection spectacular held at Rockefeller Plaza in New York was the perfect insight into the megalomania at work.

Watson was there to name three wildcards, but thanks to the egos of Bishop and his cronies, he was made to feel like he was naming the top three in America's Got Talent. As it was, those picks were made two weeks early, meaning that the top two in the FedEx Cup, Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel, were overlooked.

Why? Because, Watson said, the logistics demanded so. "The families need to know and have time to prepare," he said. The families? Is this a serious sports event or a biennial jolly?

Azinger is spot on when he says that the PGA of America need to rip up how they appoint their captain as, for a body with "professional" in the name, it is comically amateur. This time it was on the whim of Bishop and therefore it was only ever going to be a whim-lose situation.

Azinger points to the European habit of appointing from "the boot room" as one of the main reasons why they are so much better prepared. In truth, this has happened by stealth. Characters such as Olazabal and McGinley do their time as the assistant, find out how it all works and then, with their own tweaks, carry forward the culture which stretches more than 30 years back to the revolution staged by Tony Jacklin.

Players know what they are walking into, know the drill, know what the captain will want and feel very comfortable in delivering. The one captain to ignore what McGinley calls "the template" was Nick Faldo in 2008 and that was the only time Europe have lost this century.

There is no US template, there is no line of succession. Only two of the last 10 US captain have been assistants. So they turn up with their own ideas, are totally ignorant as to what may or may not have worked before and crack on regardless. While the Euros are aware what is required, the US players are oblivious. In a game of fractions, the Euros march on in confidence and continuity, while the US stumble in confusion and calamity. But it doesn't have to be like that.

Azinger was the man in opposition to Faldo in 2008 and, similar to Jacklin in 1983, his plan was a radical departure from everything that happened before. He split them into tight small groups, gave them a say in the gameplan and the result was the most united US team in living memory. So there they had it, the blueprint for every captain to follow thereafter.

Corey Pavin ignored it, Davis Love ignored it and Watson ignored it. And the PGA of America allowed all three of them to ignore it. None of that trio even read Azinger's book "Cracking the Code", which detailed how he went about leading America to only their second win in the last 21 years. Montgomerie, the 2010 captain, read it, as did McGinley. Yes, they were intrigued, but the men who were actually going to occupy the same hotseat felt it was of absolutely no interest to them. How arrogant is that?

Exactly as arrogant as Watson showing up saying he would be "captaining from the seat of my pants" and expecting to halt a finely-tuned Europe wagon in which every part was working together. For Mickelson this was desperate deja vu and he felt he could stand it no longer - and so he made his stand. And as he did, Bishop's face became redder and redder, before he fled out of the back of the interview room, declining interviews as he went.

We could pray that he had finally heard sense in Mickelson's words and that he was off to meet with his fellow officers and say 'we need an overhaul'. But no, he would have been off to some grand reception where, over the clink of champagne flutes, he would have being cursing Mickelson for his impertinence. In those seconds, the chances of Azinger returning would have been remote. Mickelson had done for Azinger as well as he had done for Watson.

Yet there is hope. Bishop's tenure is blessedly coming to its conclusion and in comes Derek Sprague, the head pro of a New York golf club. He seems to have the right idea. "It's not the size of the dog, it's the size of the bark," he says. America remains the big dog, but their bark is pathetic and their bite non-existent. It is time they listened to Azinger and Mickelson. It is time they put a structure in place and take it seriously. Or else they shall carry on being a laughing stock. It's the only continuity they can boast.

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