CHASKA, Minn. – In 2004, Phil Mickelson didn’t learn that he was partnering with Tiger Woods in a foursomes match until two days before the Ryder Cup began.
Rest assured, that’s no longer the case.
Yes, alternate shot is difficult for both teams. It’s not a format they play often. (“If I go play golf,” Rickie Fowler said, “I want to play the whole golf course.”) It involves blending two different games, overcoming the embarrassment of an occasional bad shot, developing a strategy for who tees off on certain holes and, as Mickelson explained Wednesday, adjusting to a new golf ball that spins differently.
Europe has adapted much better of late. In the past three Ryder Cups, the Europeans have outscored the Americans in that format, 19 to 8 ½.
“It’s a tricky one,” Matt Kuchar said. “There’s a lot to figure out, and all that can quickly go out the window if you’re not playing the game you hope and had designed with thoughts of playing.”
The Ryder Cup task force, and the ensuing committee, has been lauded for giving the U.S. team a plan and a template moving forward, for allowing players to practice and prepare weeks – not days – ahead of time. That was Mickelson’s main beef with his ill-fated partnership with Tiger Woods back in 2004. He said U.S. captain Hal Sutton didn’t inform the duo that they’d be paired together until two days before the competition began, which left Mickelson scrambling to adjust to a new golf ball.
“Had we known a month in advance,” Mickelson said, “we might have been able to make it work.” Instead, Mickelson described Sutton’s decision as putting both he and Woods “in a position to fail, and we failed monumentally, absolutely.”
This year, however, it’s completely different. In fact, Brandt Snedeker said he’s been practicing with a different golf ball for the past few weeks.
“You get in alternate shot and you need to know how does this golf ball compare to my golf ball, so I can make adjustments going forward,” Snedeker said. “We’ve already started making adjustments for that, playing with different golf balls throughout the week, and will continue to do that the next two days. The biggest thing about preparation is you just don’t want to have a wrench thrown in your plans.”