By Tyler Olson
Nobody had as much to do with the United States winning the 2016 Ryder Cup as Phil Mickelson. Nobody. With Arnold Palmer recently passed and Tiger carrying a walkie talkie down the fairways instead of a putter, there was something of a power void under the stars and stripes. If only for this weekend, that was filled by Phil Mickelson with his 3-1 record and inspired match against European team mainstay Sergio Garcia on Sunday. But to truly understand Phil’s significance to this Ryder Cup, we first have to go back to the previous one.
After a 16 ½ to 11 ½ embarrassment in Gleneagles, the United States team was demoralized. Phil more so than any others, as 2014 was the eighth Ryder Cup he was on the losing end of. In the press conference afterword, he tore into Tom Watson, the 2014 captain of the American squad, and called for wholesale changes in the US Ryder Cup system. The tone of his comments seemed cruel to many, especially as Watson was seated a mere few feet away, but they were effective.
The result was the PGA of America Ryder Cup task force, which was made up of a group of former captains, players, and PGA of America representatives. That task force overhauled the points system, the captains picks, and the level of player involvement, which was previously nil. Phil was behind the selection of Davis Love III as the captain and remained active in bonding the team as the Cup drew near. He fully invested himself in helping America win the 2016 Ryder Cup.
2016 wasn’t just a redemption mission for the 2014 loss, either. It was redemption for the Americans losing six of the previous seven Ryder Cups and it was redemption for Phil’s Ryder Cup legacy. Despite his historic lack of success- Jim Furyk is the only American to ever lose as many Ryder Cup matches as Mickelson- Phil gave himself a chance to be remembered as the man who saved the Americans.
It started on Friday morning foursomes where Phil and Rickie Fowler faced off against the European pairing of Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan. The teams went toe to toe all morning in a match that included just seven halved holes. In the end, Phil and Rickie took the match 1 up to punctuate the four match sweep for the Americans in the first session.
The momentum from that sweep never ceased for the American side until Sunday morning when at one point the Europeans had leads in six matches and the Americans in just one. It seemed as if there was a historic comeback in the works. Mickelson had other ideas. He made ten birdies in a slugfest against Sergio Garcia that, along with the Reed v McIlroy match, kept the American crowd in it. Riding that wave of excitement, the Americans took seven of the twelve Sunday singles matches and repossessed the Ryder Cup.
Phil was vindicated in a way that only such a resounding victory could have. In the words of Johnny Miller, Mickelson was, “The power behind [Davis Love’s] throne,” and if the United States lost he would have not had much to salvage in the way of his reputation. Instead he’s not only known as the power behind this win but as the person who set the American team up for many more victories down the road.