Explanations or excuses? Phil walking fine line

By Randall MellSeptember 28, 2016, 10:07 pm

CHASKA, Minn. – Phil Mickelson keeps making the autopsy public, and there’s a danger in that.

There was an unpleasantness to exhuming the body of yet another failed American Ryder Cup captaincy the way Mickelson did Wednesday that makes people outside the European team uncomfortable. Mickelson carved up Hal Sutton’s captaincy as an example of why the American Ryder Cup culture is flawed. It’s a 12-year-old corpse.

As Mickelson seeks to justify the American mutiny at Gleneagles two years ago and the American Ryder Cup task force’s work, he threatens to alienate a segment of fandom. He threatens to go too far.

Where does the explanation end and the excuse-making begin?

How much are past captains to blame for the American woes and how much are players to blame?

Dragging Sutton back into this, Mickelson makes that the defining question this week.

Sutton was 0-1 as a captain. American teams are 2-8 with Mickelson on the roster.

Mickelson isn’t a playing captain at Hazeltine, but he might be the first playing spokesman in Ryder Cup history. It’s a big job trying to win and sell how it’s being won.

The Europeans know it, and you wonder how much they’re relishing watching Mickelson juggle the tasks.

“You don’t win Ryder Cups with your mouth,” Sergio Garcia said this week. “You win them out there on the golf course.”

Garcia wasn’t talking about Mickelson specifically, but this whole American Ryder Cup overhaul is the story that can’t be explained enough this week.

Twelve years removed from his controversial decision to pair world No. 1 Tiger Woods and No. 2 Mickelson at Oakland Hills, Sutton is back at the Ryder Cup. Sutton was so bitter about the blame he got for that loss at Oakland Hills, he went into a self-imposed exile for four years. Apparently, he has made his peace with his history, because he mingled with players in the American team room Tuesday night, joining former captains Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins and Corey Pavin.

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That’s what made Mickelson’s autopsy of Sutton’s captaincy awkward. He made Sutton an example of why the American system required change, of how captains in that antiquated system could put players in position to fail. Mickelson explained that Sutton set him up to fail telling him two days before the Tiger pairing that he was going to play with Woods and he was going to have to play Woods’ Nike ball.

“It forced me to stop my preparation for the tournament, and stop sharpening my game, and stop learning the golf course in an effort to [take a] crash course and learn a whole different golf ball,” Mickelson said. “Had we had time to prepare, I think we would have made it work.”

American captain Davis Love III was asked in his news conference Wednesday if Mickelson’s calling out Sutton again was appropriate. Love indicated Mickelson is in some ways playing defense.

“Unfortunately, some analysts just keep bringing it up over and over and over again, things that have happened in the past,” Love said. “Sometimes, you have to set the record straight.”

Mickelson’s effort to overhaul the American team construct is all about the nature of leadership. It’s something he’s passionate about, because he wants to win the Ryder Cup. It’s just that in defending the American overhaul he can come off as if he’s making the captains scapegoats for the American mess.

“It all starts with the captain,” Mickelson said. “That’s the guy that has to bring together 12 strong individuals and bring out their best and allow them on a platform to play their best. That's the whole foundation of the team.”

The essence of Mickelson’s message when he challenged Tom Watson’s leadership after the loss at Gleneagles two years ago is that the captain’s most important function is to put players in position to succeed.

“When players are put in positions to fail, most of the time they tend to fail,” Mickelson said.

The Americans have been trying so hard to create a team construct the Europeans make look so easy.

“What a massive pat on the back and confidence booster it is for Europe that Team USA needs to create a task force!” Lee Westwood tweeted when the task force was formed.

Mickelson has acknowledged the Americans are trying to create a model similar to what has worked so well for the Europeans, a model that is more “inclusive,” allowing players to have more “input,” and a model that creates more “continuity” from one American team to the next.

“We saw that Europe was a little bit more organized than us and a little bit more thinking long-term, and we decided to change our game plan,” Love said.

European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke is flattered the Americans are trying to model their team after Europe’s construct.

“I think the highest compliment that anybody can pay, is to try and maybe copy, or take a look at a few of the components that make up our success,” Clarke said. “The task force I look at as a huge compliment to the European Tour.”

Come Sunday, the American effort may be judged on whether another autopsy is needed and whether the players deserve the lion’s share of credit or blame.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.