Mickelson stages mutiny over Watson strategy

By Jason SobelSeptember 28, 2014, 8:40 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – There are two ways to interpret what happened in the aftermath of the latest United States thrashing at the hands of Europe, the team’s third loss in a row and eighth in the last 10 editions of the event.

One way is that it was a cathartic clearing of the air, a constructive meeting of the minds during which captain Tom Watson publicly defended his management skills and veteran team member Phil Mickelson aired his grievances.

And then there’s the right way.

The reality is, it was an uncomfortable train wreck spilling into an awkward dumpster fire.

It took three full days, but the 40th edition of this event finally turned into a contentious, combative competition by Sunday evening.

Except that it wasn’t the Americans against the Europeans. It was the Americans against themselves.

During a post-round news conference following another uninspired thrashing, everything unraveled. The years of frustration. The disappointing week. The memories of the only time this team has triumphed since the turn of the century and the resentment over how it’s all gone downhill ever since.

At the eye of this storm was Mickelson, clearly still upset about being benched by Watson for both Saturday team sessions. Asked to explain what worked during Paul Azinger’s reign in 2008 that hasn’t happened since, the 10-time competitor unleashed a lengthy diatribe of support which could only be viewed as discouragement toward the latest system.

“There were two things that allow us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger did,” Mickelson said. “One was he got everybody invested in the process. He got everybody invested in who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod, when they would play. ... The other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us, you know, how we were going to go about doing this.

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“Those two things helped us bring out our best golf.”

When questioned about whether Watson employed a similar strategy, he didn’t hide his disapproval.

“Uh, no,” he said matter-of-factly.

In the demure world of golf, this was the verbal equivalent to Reggie Jackson brawling with Billy Martin in a dugout or Latrell Sprewell going for the throat of P.J. Carlesimo.

In prior years, the team news conference has featured a few tears, plenty of regrets and a whole barrelful of promises to turn things around for the next time. Never before has there been such blatant finger-pointing. Never before has a captain been summarily thrown under the proverbial bus.

Maybe it wasn’t the right time or place to air dirty laundry, but those objections certainly weren’t unfounded.

Watson is an old-school curmudgeon who wanted to win his way – namely, bark at his players to play better and expect it to happen.

He never consulted Azinger on that winning strategy. He never consulted his players, either.

Instead, the captain entered the week without a fully formed plan, then scrapped any remnants of it halfway through the opening day.

The man who repeatedly wanted hot hands left his hottest ones on the bench. The man who had players in specific groups during practice rounds quickly paired twosomes who hadn’t prepped together. The man who insisted he would take none of the credit and all of the blame at one point explained that he wasn’t being outcoached, but his players were being outplayed.

Watson watched from six seats away as Mickelson pulled a passive-aggressive coup on his captaincy. Asked whether his most veteran team member was being disloyal, he simply stated, “He has a difference of opinion. That's OK. My management philosophy is different than his.”

Even in attempting to defend himself, Watson displayed casual ignorance.

“My two jobs are to make the captain's picks and then put the team together. Those are my two most important jobs,” he explained. “Whether I did the best possible job of putting the teams together, that's up to you people to debate.”

The quarrel between Watson and Mickelson was a war of words in the most indirect way possible, polite smiles masking a growing undercurrent of dislike and disapproval and distrust.

Through it all, Jim Furyk sat silently on the opposite side of the dais from Mickelson, dutifully listening to each side. When the nine-time Ryder Cup player was finally asked for his take, he offered some thoughtful words on the subject that were less malicious than constructive.

“I think that I have a lot of respect for both gentlemen,” he said. “I've known Phil my entire life. Since I was 16, I've competed against him. He's one of my dearest friends on the PGA Tour. And I have a lot of respect for our captain. I know he put his heart and soul in it for two years. He worked his ass off to try to provide what he thought would be the best opportunity for us.

“What's the winning formula? What's the difference year-in, year-out? If I could put my finger on it, I would have changed this s--- a long time ago. But we haven't and we are going to keep searching.”

In the minutes just after the United States’ latest Ryder Cup beatdown, that searching was done in a public forum, awkwardly and uncomfortably.

It was more contentious and combative than anything the team produced on the course for three days. As the European team celebrated by spraying champagne at one another, the Americans left the premises with a cascade of untimely fireworks.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.