Steve Eubanks: Tiger and Phil growing as leaders

Tiger Woods (r) is doing a great job of helping his teammates.

Eubanks: Tiger and Phil growing as leaders

Neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson has excelled in the Ryder Cup. Nevertheless, Steve Eubanks notes, they have become Team USA’s leaders, the go-to guys for advice and motivation.

By Steve Eubanks,

MEDINAH, Ill. -- They are the players every American wants to be paired with and the ones every European wants to beat. 

They are the ones who can be identified by their crowds; the ones whose names are shouted by autograph-seeking fans more than any others; the ones whose Ryder Cup wins can create a lot of momentum, and whose losses can inspire the opposition.   

Oddly enough, neither of them has a winning Ryder Cup record. And at times, they’ve been downright awful.  

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are a combined 24-31-8 in their Ryder Cup careers, with Mickelson (11-17-9) holding the all-time record for the most losses by an American. Tiger’s record is a little better than Phil’s (13-14-2), but he has not been just north of abysmal with partners (9-13-1).  

Despite that, they are the leaders of this team, the ones every player has mentioned as being the go-to guys for advice and motivation.  

“Those guys really bring a lot to the team room,” Brandt Snedeker said. “I think those guys lead in two completely different ways. Tiger has got a quiet confidence about him and will give you tidbits (of advice) here and there. I think Phil is more of a cheerleader, pumping you up kind of guy.

“They’ve done a great job of opening our eyes a little bit. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on that I had no clue about: the way we should play and the way we should look at match play and stuff like that. They’ve done a great job of getting us ready.”   

They haven’t always been that way. 

Prior to the 2002 Ryder Cup, someone asked Tiger to rank the Ryder Cup in terms of importance to his career. He answered with a question of his own: “Does anybody in here know Jack Nicklaus’ Ryder Cup record off the top of your head?” he asked. 

The room fell quiet. Then Tiger said, “How about how many majors he won?”   

Phil was also criticized for going home to play with his kids and having full-scale equipment changes before Ryder Cups in the past. 

Now, they are pairing up with each other at the Ping-Pong table, beating all comers and building camaraderie among 12 guys who spend the rest of the year trying to whip each other. 

“We’ve actually had a lot of fun together as teammates,” Phil said of his six Ryder Cups with Tiger. “We’ve not had much success together on the course, but I will say that as partners on the pong table, we are delivering.”  

Their personality differences shine through, even in practice. Tiger has carried more quiet intensity around Medinah in the first couple of days than normal, even by his standards. He looks like a golf time-bomb about to explode.  

“I played a practice round with (Tiger) yesterday and he’s playing great,” Snedeker said. “He’s got a little edge to him. I think he’s going to be a guy that you do not want to face at any point his week on the European team.”  

Woods was also as candid as he has ever been about his past Ryder Cup failings.  

“Certainly, I am responsible,” Tiger said when asked if he was personally liable for U.S. losses in the past. “I didn’t earn the points that I was out there for. I believe I was out there for five sessions each time, and I didn’t go 5-0. So, I certainly am a part of that, and that’s part of being a team. I needed to get my points for my team, and I didn’t do that. Hopefully, I can do that this week.”

For all his failings and successes, no one can question the deep, emotional love Tiger has for his country. He has always been a patriot. Now, at age 36, he is realizing that this is his venue for showing that. 

“In order to win cups, you have to earn points and we certainly have not earned points,” he said. “On top of that, I think Phil, Jim (Furyk) and I have been put out there a lot during those years. So if we aren’t earning points, it’s hard to win Ryder Cups.”

All three of those men will be looking to win points this time around. 

But they are also doing more than that. They are leading. 

“They both came onto the teams trying to win a whole bunch of points,” said Captain Davis Love. “They thought that was what they were supposed to do. Now they just want to win. I can’t tell you how many times Tiger and Phil have said, ‘Whatever you want us to do, we’ll do it.’" 

Then the captain looked away, his face tightening and pools of moisture spilling from wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. 

“They’re just great,” he finally choked out. “I love being around them.”