Phil takes step toward Ryder Cup redemption on Day 1

By Joe PosnanskiOctober 1, 2016, 3:10 am

CHASKA, Minn. – Everything bubbles over at the Ryder Cup. Fans, freed from golf’s genteel and respectful expectations, scream for golf balls to “get out of the cup!” Players who normally show no more emotion than a wry smile and friendly tip of the cap suddenly strut and bow and sound their barbaric yawps. Yes, there are roars and cheers on every golf course at every big tournament, but at the Ryder Cup those roars laced with a bit of arsenic. It is golf on the edge.

And Friday Phil Mickelson was in a state of near-panic.

You wouldn’t think there would be anything left on a golf course that could shake Mickelson. He’s 46. This has been his life since he was a teenager. He has won the biggest tournaments in the world, and he has lost them. He has earned hundreds of millions of dollars on the golf course and off. He’s one of the 10 or 15 greatest players ever, and the reason is his cool, his ability in the most impossible spots to hit the most miraculous shots.

And he has played in 10 Ryder Cups before this one.

But this one is different. “Given the buildup over the last couple of years,” he said, “the criticism, the comments, what have you, the pressure was certainly as great or greater than I have ever felt.”

Yes, this one is different. There’s a giant hole in Phil Mickelson's magnificent career. The hole is not there because of tournaments he’s blown; all players, even the greatest, blow tournaments. The hole isn’t there because it took him so long to finally win his first major championship. Mickelson has now won five majors, three of them Masters, and then you throw in a couple of Tour Championships and a Players Championship and domination at Pebble Beach … it is a Hall of Fame career to say the least.

No, the hole is exacty as big as the Ryder Cup. This is his void. This is his emptiness. You start with Mickelson’s losing Ryder Cup record – he was 16-19-6 coming into Hazeltine. His teams have lost eight of the 10 Ryder Cups he had played in. There is something suffocating about that record. No, it is not fair to compare Mickelson’s record with that of Arnold Palmer (22-8-2) or Jack Nicklaus (17-8-3) because those guys played in a different Ryder Cup, before European players joined the fray.


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But how about comparing him with contemporaries like Colin Montgomerie (20-9-7) or Bernhard Langer (21-15-6) or Justin Rose (9-3-2), who beat Mickelson a couple of times in singles matches. How about the ever-fluctuating Sergio Garcia (18-9-5) or Lee Westwood (20-15-6) or Jose Maria Olazabal (18-8-5).

These were Europe’s best in the time of Mickelson, and they repeatedly won, he repeatedly lost. It wasn’t just him, of course. The U.S. team’s biggest names repeatedly lost. Tiger Woods also has a losing Ryder Cup record in his career, and if anything, this is more shocking because Woods played golf better than anyone ever.

There is a difference though. Woods’ Ryder Cup record seems just a weird quirk in his overwhelming career. He does not run from it. His singles record is a sparkling 4-1-2 … he just hasn’t played well in the team competitions. Hey, Tiger’s a lone wolf.

But Mickelson wears his Ryder Cup record. It gnaws at him. It infuriates him. It leads him to do all sorts of questionable things. Two years ago, in the moments after another dreadful Ryder Cup team performance, Mickelson lashed out at one of golf’s legends, Tom Watson, for his work as captain. Whatever flaws Watson displayed as captain, it was staggeringly poor form.

But this is how tender that Ryder Cup wound is. Touch it, he howls. For the last two years, by various accounts, it was Mickelson driving the so-called task force that has led to this team. There is a whole lot of pressure on him for that.

And then this week, someone again got a bit too close to the Ryder Cup wound by asking him about the importance of the Ryder Cup captain. This time, his friendly fire hit 2004 captain Hal Sutton, who never saw it coming. Mickelson just started griping about Sutton’s decision to pair Mickelson and Woods together 12 years ago. The comments so upset Sutton, who had come to Minnesota to be a part of the Ryder Cup experience, that for a time he reportedly considered leaving. Mickelson apologized for the insensitivity of his remarks but never took them back – he obviously still thinks it was ridiculous to pair him with Tiger Woods.*

*Maybe that’s why Mickelson lost to Sergio Garcia 3-2 in the singles on the Sunday of that Ryder Cup, part of Europe’s 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 drubbing of America.

He can’t help it. His Ryder Cup failings so obviously eat away at him. They make him crazy. And then there’s one more thing: Mortality. This might be his last Ryder Cup. Let’s face it – it almost certainly will be his last one. He will be 48 when the next Ryder Cup will be played at Le Golf National in France. There are so many good young American players. This is it.

And so, yes, Mickelson couldn’t sleep leading into Friday’s match. He talked about feeling nerves he had never felt before. “I could have copped out and asked to sit,” he said of the morning foursome session. “That would have been a totally weak move. And I wanted to get out there. Put me out there. I enjoy that pressure.”

Well … “enjoy” might be a strong word. Mickelson’s game was sketchy to say the least. He pounded one drive out of bounds. He hit a right-handed shot that plunked a spectator. He looked unnerved. But he had a secret weapon: his partner, Rickie Fowler. Nobody on Tour is as chill as Fowler. When Mickelson hit his shot out of bounds, Fowler laughed. When Mickelson scuffled, Fowler kept saying, “It’s cool. We’ll get ‘em. One hole at a time.”

Fower is exactly the sort of guy you would want to have as a partner.

“He knows what to say and when to say it,” MIckelson said.

Mickelson and Fowler were down two with four holes to play against Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan. Then they won the 15th and 16th holes to square the match. On the par-3 17th, Fowler hit his tee shot close to the flag – a dagger shot. Sullivan, a rookie who looked absolutely petrified, splatted his ball into the water.

And on the 18th, Mickelson hit a wayward drive but left Fowler with enough to get the ball to the green. Mickelson cozied the ball up nicely to the hole and the U.S. won, 1 up.

“He got some of my best golf out there in the end,” Mickelson said, speaking of Fowler. “Some of the iron shots down the stretch, a lot of it was due to the things that he said to get me in the right frame of mind.”

The U.S. swept the morning foursomes, a dominating performance that suggested this Ryder Cup might just be a blowout. This U.S. team seems much better than the European one. Europe is a bit down with six rookies and without Ryder Cup lions like Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell.

But those guys are just tough at the Ryder Cup. Europe flashed some muscle in the afternoon, running away in three of the four matches. So the U.S. leads 5-3 which, let’s be honest, means nothing. It’s close. It’s tense. It could be a grueling and feverish next two days.

Is Mickelson ready for it? Well, he really has no choice. It’s the Ryder Cup, and it’s intense for everyone. But for Mickelson, it’s a chance for small redemption. He probably won’t sleep much.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”