Game Changer: Why Phil Mickelson’s Captain’s Pick Was So Important

Mike Murphy

It looked like Phil Mickelson would be left off the President’s Cup team for the first time since 1994, which would have been a grave mistake for Team USA. That may seem odd considering Mickelson is 47 years old and has had only two top-10 finishes all season, but the pro brings much more than just stats to the table.

His recent T-6 performance was enough evidence for U.S. team captain, Steve Stricker, to make the call of bringing Mickelson on. A move he shouldn’t regret in the slightest. Lefty had been feeling lethargic during the season and saw a doctor who gave him a new diet to help build up his stamina again. The results showed at the Dell Technologies championship and the players around the tournament said they were witnessing ‘the Mickelson of old’.

But this U.S. President’s Cup team is very, very young. Take a look at the roster they have for this fall:

  • Dustin Johnson (Age: 33)
  • Jordan Spieth (24)
  • Justin Thomas (24)
  • Rickie Fowler (28)
  • Daniel Berger (24)
  • Brooks Koepka (28)
  • Kevin Kisner (33)
  • Patrick Reed (27)
  • Matt Kuchar (39)
  • Kevin Chappell (31)
  • Charley Hoffman (40)
  • Phil Mickelson (47)

With the exception of Hoffman and Kuchar, this team is full of new guys who aren’t accustomed to this style of golf. Is there a difference between PGA Tour golf and the President’s/Ryder Cup golf? You bet there is.

The level of intensity is so different because instead of playing for yourself, you are playing for a team in a rowdy atmosphere. Some rounds you may be playing against a guy from team Europe, or perhaps you are with a playing partner from the U.S. trying to defeat two guys from the European side.

In a PGA Tour event, you play for yourself and the consequences of a bad shot fall on you and no one else. But in these types of tournaments, an entire team is counting on you to do your part. Instead of focusing on beating the course, you have to worry about scoring against an opponent on the other side, maybe in match play or stroke play. That factor can heighten the level of intensity by tenfold.

Players like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, and Rickie Fowler will be looked upon to carry the torch since they are viewed as the top U.S. golfers in the world. Guys like Tiger Woods, Mickelson, or Steve Stricker (this year’s captain) can no longer carry the team round-for-round.

Mickelson knows that his job on this team will be a role player and a mentor to the young guys, helping them through the pressures. With this being his 12th consecutive President’s Cup attendance, he will surely be able to guide the younger pros to victory. Woods, who is an assistant this year, will likely be able to assist in that regard as well. With talent and guidance, Team USA is looking like the clear victor this year.

Look back at the 2014 Ryder Cup where a 26-year-old Keegan Bradley was paired up with a 44-year-old Phil Mickelson. Bradley looked to Lefty as a big-brother figure during that Ryder Cup, and Mickelson embraced it.

On the first tee, Mickelson could sense that Bradley was nervous before their best-ball round. Before Bradley teed off Mickelson told him: “I don’t want to hit eight. I don’t want to hit nine. I want to hit a wedge into the green.”

Bradley, full of confidence, knocked it down the center of the fairway, and good enough for Mickelson to land a wedge within feet of the cup.

That is the sort of big-brotherhood demeanor Mickelson will bring to this U.S. President’s Cup team. Once again this will be a decision Stricker will not regret.