Mickelson Skips Wednesday Practice Round


04 Ryder CupBLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Phil Mickelson is a changed man. He's altered the long-standing perception he couldn't win a major, and his latest deviation finds him switching equipment just before golf's pre-eminent team event.
Still, there's one thing Mickelson wouldn't alter - not even for the Ryder Cup, the one time in a pro golfer's life when individualism is discouraged and players compete for the flag, not financial gain.
While 23 U.S. and European golfers practiced Wednesday at Oakland Hills, Mickelson was the lone holdout as he chose to take a rest day. His absence was noticed by the tens of thousands of spectators, some of whom spent as much as $40 just for parking, and by the rival European captain.
As U.S. captain Hal Sutton sped down the fourth fairway in a cart, watching a practice round, several fans yelled, 'Where's Phil? Where's Phil?'
Sutton, who has done everything this week short of holding a slumber party to build a team-first atmosphere among the sometimes self-centered Americans, didn't answer. Mickelson told him he always rests on the Wednesday before a major, and Mickelson considers the Ryder Cup to be a major.
To Sutton, that made it a minor issue.
'I said, `Absolutely, don't change your routine. You do what you have to do,'' Sutton said.
American teammate Stewart Cink also wasn't bothered, saying, 'Phil, he's bold at times, he's not afraid to make a decision that might ruffle a few feathers.'
But it wasn't how European captain Bernhard Langer would do it and he said so, caring not if he touched an American nerve. To some on the European side, Mickelson's decision smacked of the me-first attitude they believe is more prevalent among the Americans than themselves.
'I don't know of any of my guys who would take a whole day off before a big competition,' Langer said.
Not long before his 11 teammates took the course without him, Mickelson said, 'We have a team concept we haven't had in the past, and I think Hal is searching for a different way to help bring our best game out.'
The spectators, meanwhile, were unsuccessfully searching for Mickelson.
Mickelson's decision to take a day off came only a week after he switched equipment, from Titleist to Callaway - another subject of locker room debate at Oakland Hills. Normally, a golfer would be no more likely to make such an important switch amid season than a NASCAR driver would to change from Ford to Chevy the week of the Daytona 500.
'Surprised, yes,' Sutton said. 'Not upset about it. Any time a great player like that makes a shift in equipment, I think everybody is surprised by it. You can't be upset about things like that because he's got a life that he's got to live.'
Mickelson didn't exactly look comfortable with his new Callaway driver last week at the Canadian Open, finishing last in driving accuracy the first three rounds. His 57th-place finish was his second-worst in 19 events, in the same memorable year he won the Masters, was a close second in the U.S. Open, third in the British Open and tied for sixth in the PGA.
The image of Mickelson lifting up delighted young daughter Amanda after the Masters and saying, 'Daddy won, can you believe it?' after ending his 42-tournament losing streak in majors is perhaps the indelible moment of the golfing year.
What a year, so why change now?
'I could have waited until the end of the year, but I felt it was in my best interests and the best interests of the team that I do this now,' said Mickelson, who trails only world No. 1 Vijay Singh on the PGA Tour money list. 'It's with the ball I'm playing and it's with the woods I'm playing. I didn't make a change with the irons because of ... concern with distance controls and so forth.'
Mickelson's past record in team competition offers little clue of how he will play beginning Friday. His 8-5-3 Ryder Cup record is the best on a U.S. team that includes five Ryder Cup rookies, and certainly compares favorably to Tiger Woods' 5-8-2.
Yet Mickelson's 2002 Ryder Cup singles loss to Phillip Price, ranked 119th in the world, set the tone for Europe's strong final day and eventual victory. Mickelson also was 0-5 for the United States during its 14-14 tie with the international team in the 2003 Presidents Cup.
Mickelson insists his ongoing distractions, including the transition in equipment, will mean absolutely nothing come Friday.
'I think we as players on the U.S. side think we have a lot to prove, losing three of the last four (Ryder Cup) matches,' Mickelson said. 'I think we desperately - not desperately - we really want to play well this week.
Considering the Europeans' six victories in the last nine Ryder Cups, that really would be a change.
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