Saturday 16 December 2017

Phil Mickelson flies home alone from Gleneagles after Ryder Cup tirade at USA captain Tom Watson

USA's captain Tom Watson speaks with Phil Mickelson last week at Gleneagles
USA's captain Tom Watson speaks with Phil Mickelson last week at Gleneagles

Oliver Brown

It was somehow symbolic of Phil Mickelson's separation from his Ryder Cup team-mates that he was preparing on Monday to fly back to California on his own. Then again, it did not go unnoticed in the rancorous aftermath of his attack on Tom Watson's captaincy that he was the only US team member to have arrived in Scotland on his own, too.

For Mickelson is the one player of this American dozen to possess a private Gulfstream jet worth around £40 million and which, with a little refuelling, can ferry him across the Atlantic in solitary splendour as often as he pleases.

But perhaps, on this occasion, it was better that he did not join the travelling party. One can but imagine the icy tensions between Mickelson and the slighted Watson, who would have been well-advised not to sit within 10 rows of each other.

On the morning after the extraordinarily hostile US press conference, the fall-out had still not abated, with the response from American commentators notably censorious towards Mickelson. The suggestions from the five-time major champion that Watson had "strayed from a winning formula", and that players were more "invested in the process" under 2008 captain Paul Azinger drew an especially withering rebuke from Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, who described Mickelson's comments as a "one-man mutiny".

In the wake of a third straight US defeat, a furious Chamblee said: "If you're looking for a reason why the United States continues to lose, you just saw it in one man. Phil Mickelson, along with the best players of that era, have so corrupted the experience of the Ryder Cup for their fellow competitors by not having records anywhere near what they should, given their rank in the game. Players of an era who are the best go to the Ryder Cup and show off, not goof off. This is yet another example of not coming together as a team."

Here is the explosive interview:

 Former European captains also formed a queue to castigate Mickelson. Colin Montgomerie, victorious at Celtic Manor in 2010, said: "Should we go into this one hour after we have been defeated? The answer is a flat no. You support your captain under all circumstances. In public, you respect and honour him."

Sir Nick Faldo, the losing captain at Valhalla in 2008 – when Azinger successfully trialled the "pod" of four groups of three players practising together, the arrangement to which Mickelson urged a return – was similarly critical. "That should have been a private conversation," Faldo said. "Phil certainly doesn't respect Tom Watson. He threw his captain right under the bus."

The debate in the US will now turn not only to the question of the captaincy, with Azinger back in the running against former favourite David Toms to lead the team in Minneapolis in 2016, but to whether the Ryder Cup is even worth investing in at all in the longer term.

Eight defeats in 10, all of them with Mickelson involved, are far from an enticing recipe for television networks who already struggle to attract Ryder Cup ratings when they put the competition up against American football and the end of the baseball season.

Back when the Ryder Cup was imbalanced the other way around, Jack Nicklaus generously suggested that continental Europe should be invited in addition to Great Britain and Ireland, and ever since the Americans have struggled to gain a look-in. Another treble of European victories, extending the run to six triumphs out of the last seven, threatens to dilute the Americans' motivation rather than enhance it.

For example, one might have expected Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson, with zero Ryder Cup wins between them at Gleneagles, to have been keeping a low profile to digest the pain of defeat. Instead, a picture was posted from the team room of them stripped to the waist, wearing kilts and garish mock Highland wigs. There is a mounting sense, one dangerous to the intense spirit of competition upon which the Ryder Cup depends, that Europe cares about the whole affair far more than America does.

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