Chaska, Minn. — Two days before the Ryder Cup begins, Phil Mickelson went back 12 years to drive home a point that the United States is prepared to play its best golf.
And along the way, he disparaged yet another former captain.
This time, his target was Hal Sutton.
Mickelson was the catalyst for change at the last Ryder Cup when he publicly questioned Tom Watson’s heavy-handed style — with Watson sitting at the same table — after another American loss at Gleneagles.
That led to PGA of America officials creating a task force allowing for player involvement.
“When you look back on what the difference is, when players are put in a position to succeed, more often than not they tend to succeed,” Mickelson said. “And when the players are put in positions to fail, most of the time they tend to fail.”
In a conversation Wednesday on how much a captain matters in the Ryder Cup, Mickelson looked across the room and said, “Let me give you an example, if I may.”
He went back to 2004 when the Americans suffered their worst loss ever in the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills.
Nothing illustrated their failure more than when U.S. captain Hal Sutton put Mickelson and Tiger Woods together for the first time. They lost two matches in one day.
Mickelson was lampooned that week for practicing on an adjacent course as he tried to adjust to the golf ball used by Woods.
“We ended up not playing well. Was that the problem? I mean, maybe,” Mickelson said. “But we were told two days before that we were playing together, and that gave us no time to work together and prepare.”
Mickelson said he wasn’t trying to knock Sutton. He said he liked how decisive Sutton was that week.
“But that’s an example of starting with the captain. That put us in a position to fail. And we failed monumentally, absolutely,” he said. “But to say, ‘Well, you just need to play better,’ that is so misinformed. Because you will play how you prepare.”
Sutton was bemused that Mickelson would bring that up now.
“My God, somebody’s got to be the fall guy,” he told Golfweek magazine. “If it needs to be me, I can be that. I don’t have anything to say to that. My God. The world saw what happened. They saw it. I didn’t have to cover it up. … I think Phil better get his mind on what he needs to have it on this week instead of on something that happened 10 years ago. …
“It couldn’t be their fault,” he said. “It had to be somebody else’s fault. It had to be Hal Sutton’s fault. Had to be.”
U.S. captain Davis Love III said Mickelson was only trying to set the record straight because “some analysts just keep bringing it up over and over and over again,” though Mickelson mentioned Oakland Hills unprompted in his news conference.
And Mickelson failed to mention he switched equipment from Titleist to Callaway a week before the matches.
Course: Hazeltine National (7,628 yards, par 72), Chaska, Minn.
TV: Golf Channel — 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday. NBC — 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday
Defending champion: Europe