Phil Mickelson's final mission: Win a Ryder Cup in Europe
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Phil Mickelson hasn't had his fill, not when it comes to the Cup.
Especially the next one.
Mickelson saved some of his best golf in one of his worst years for when it really counted. Steve Stricker wanted to see some life from Lefty before deciding to use a captain's pick on him for the Presidents Cup, and Mickelson delivered with four rounds in the 60s at the TPC Boston to tie for sixth.
The pick extended his record streak to 23 consecutive teams, and Mickelson delivered another strong performance on the course and in the team room. He went 3-0-1 at Liberty National, one of four Americans to go unbeaten.
But it was a passing comment in Chicago, the week after he was chosen for the Presidents Cup, that shed some insight into his immediate future. He is starting a new season this week at the Safeway Open, which was expected because his management company runs the tournament.
"Looks like I'm probably going to go to China, too," Mickelson said.
Mickelson is a two-time winner at Sheshan International, but he has played the HSBC Champions only once in the last four years. Why now? One reason — perhaps the only reason — is because the World Golf Championship in Shanghai is the only tournament in the fall that offers Ryder Cup points.
This is one team Mickelson doesn't want to miss.
He turns 48 next year and is still trying to manage psoriatic arthritis, which affected his energy and focus this year. Mickelson realizes his time is running out as a player in the Ryder Cup. He has played on three winning teams, all in America.
Next year's matches are in France. This might be Mickelson's last chance to win a Ryder Cup in Europe.
"That's the one thing I haven't done," he said in Chicago.
And the opportunity has never looked better.
The Americans suddenly look a lot like Europeans when only a gold trophy, not cash, is on the line. They have developed a formula of familiarity, and they have relationships that go beyond the team room. Not even Europe had that. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger grew up together in junior golf and graduated high school the same year. Thomas lives down the street from Rickie Fowler.
"You look at the camaraderie of the young players and how they support each other, even outside of these team events," Mickelson said. "They have a support system where they love competing against each other, love beating each other, but are genuinely happy for each other's success. And that leads to a very positive, uplifting energy in the team room.
"And I think that these young guys ... really lay a solid foundation for the U.S. teams."
The performance in the Presidents Cup — a 19-11 victory, a beating so thorough the Americans were one match away from ending it on Saturday — made it tempting to look ahead one year to the Ryder Cup with the belief it will turn out the same way.
If the Europeans were watching, should they be nervous?
"It's more confidence for us than anything they would be worried about," Spieth said.
That alone might be enough to worry.
The Americans have figured something out, and Mickelson was behind that, too.
He's the one who put his image on the line at Gleneagles after the 2014 Ryder Cup with his passive-aggressive criticism of the way Tom Watson ran the team and his incredulous tone when asking why the Americans got away from what had worked for them in Valhalla when they won in 2008.
That led to the task force, in which the players lobbed for consistency and control.
And it appears to be working.
"They got better at doing what Europe does than what Europe did," said Geoff Ogilvy, an assistant captain for the International team. "And we paid the price. Europe made America better. ... Europe plays with such spirit, and that's what it is. What you see with that U.S. team, isn't it a bit of that European spirit?"
Does that translate to the Ryder Cup? Not necessarily. The Americans have been feeling good about themselves after the Presidents Cup for the last decade and they have only two Ryder Cup victories to show for it.
The Ryder Cup is a different monster. Mickelson knows that better than anyone. And that's why he's so desperate to be there.
"There will be a point where I look back and I remember, cherish, talk about all the experiences and memories that have been created," he said of his 23 appearances in the Cups. "Right now, I'm still trying to make more. I have not been a part of a Ryder Cup victory in Europe. It's a big goal of mine. We have the players, the foundation, and the direction. I want to be part of that team next year."