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Among the players competing in the 37th Ryder Cup, Phil Mickelson leads in PGA Tour victories (34) and Ryder Cup appearances (seven).(Photo: Getty Images)

Dolch: Time for Mickelson to lead at the way at Valhalla

By Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Contributor- PGATOUR.com

Print News

Besides being one of the world's best golfers, Phil Mickelson has a little debate team in him. He can pontificate on matters ranging from subcutaneous fat to aeronautics.

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There's rarely a popular topic that he hasn't researched while deciding what to do next in his life. So no doubt he's had plenty of time to contemplate his role this week for the Tiger Woods-less American team in the 37th Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.

If you expect Mickelson to take some of the leadership reigns left behind by Woods' absence, Mickelson says you can expect again. He made that very clear recently when asked how he saw his Ryder Cup role.

"As a player," he said.

"That's it?" the reporter followed up.

Mickelson didn't back down.

"I'm a player," he said. "That's my role. I'm not a captain, I'm not assistant captain. This is going to be a fun team, and we've got great leadership. Zinger (captain Paul Azinger) is a great leader, but we also have two past Ryder Cup captains as our assistant captains (Raymond Floyd and Dave Stockton).

"So we've got great leadership to help out with a lot of the young players that are going to be on the team. So my role is to play some good golf."

Actually, Lefty, it should be more than that. Especially on a Red, White and Blue team filled with a darker shade of green. As in six rookies -- half the team. As in lots and lots of inexperience.

Mickelson is anything but inexperienced in this kind of white-knuckle competition. He has become almost a graybeard.

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Mickelson is 9-12-4 is 25 Ryder Cup matches.(Cannon/Getty Images)

When he tees it up in Friday morning's foursomes, the 38-year-old Mickelson will have officially played in more Ryder Cups (seven) than Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer (six).

That's a stunning statistic, even if the Ryder Cup wasn't the souped-up event during Nicklaus' and Palmer's day. Only three players -- Floyd, Lanny Wadkins and Billy Casper -- will have played in more Ryder Cups (eight) than Mickelson.

That's why Mickelson has no choice but to assume a greater role, both in the locker room and on the course. Sure, Azinger is an alpha personality who lives for these events. He will provide leadership from above.

But in such a unique event like this, leadership needs to come from everywhere. Every championship team has always has players take charge when they have to. There's only so much a captain, a head coach or a general manager can say.

Ii should start with the player who has the most major championships (three), is highest-ranked in the world (No. 2) and has already played in 25 Ryder Cup matches, compiling a 44 percent winning percentage.

It's got to be you, Phil, even if you're in a current funk with your putter. It's not going to be Jim Furyk or Stewart Cink, or Justin Leonard or Kenny Perry or Chad Campbell. It's certainly not going to be any of the six rookies.

And with Woods expected to fully recover from his knee operation, this might be your only chance to take the lead at a Ryder Cup.

It's been a quarter-century since the Americans dominated this event. Were it not for a record-breaking, miracle comeback by the U.S. in Sunday's singles at the 1999 Cup at Brookline, Europe would have won the last six matches.

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And to think at one point the score in this series was a lopsided 23-5-2. Heck, a tie would be looking pretty good for the American team lately.

As it is, America has lost the last three Ryder Cups, including the last two by record margins of 18 �-9 �. And that was with a healthy Woods. So you know what that means?

"That's a huge loss for us," Mickelson said. "It's always tough to lose the No. 1 player in the world."

That's why this team doesn't just need your leadership, Phil; it demands it. And we're not just talking about deciding how to pair the teams for those ping-pong games in the locker room.

With Woods gone, this team should have Mickelson's stamp all over it. Tell everyone how you want to lead this team, then go out and do it.

Act like the European players and come out with your fists pumping from that first birdie. Play to win, don't play not to lose. If those first-timers see a vet like you getting amped-up, they can't help but get excited, too.

Act like there's no place you'd rather be, no event you'd rather be playing in.

Don't just lead by example, but lead. Find a way to calm some of the rookies' nerves. With a recovering Woods deciding not to show up this week, that makes it easier for Mickelson to fill this leadership void.

It's Mickelson's time. At least it should be.