GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson launched a scathing attack on Tom Watson after the United States went down to another Ryder Cup defeat on Sunday, saying his captain had not engaged with the players and should have stuck with the system that worked in 2008.
That victory under Paul Azinger was one of only two in the last 10 editions and those involved were particularly happy with his “pod” system, whereby players were split into groups of three or four who practiced and played together.
Subsequent captains Corey Pavin, Davis Love and Watson dispensed with it, leaving Mickelson, who has now lost eight of his 10 Ryder Cups, a frustrated figure.
“Paul Azinger got everybody invested in the process. He got everybody invested in who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod, who -- when they would play, and they had a great leader for each pod,” Mickelson said after finishing his weekend with a singles victory over Stephen Gallacher.
”The other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us, how we were going to go about playing together; golf ball, format, what we were going to do, if so-and-so is playing well, if so-and-so is not playing well, we had a real game plan.
“We use that same process in the President’s Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from that for the last three Ryder Cups and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.”
It was highly unusual to hear a Ryder Cup player openly criticize his captain’s approach, especially so soon after the match, and though Mickelson attempted to say it was not an attack on Watson, he was not about to row back.
Asked to elaborate about the involvement of players with the captain, Mickelson added: “No. Nobody here was in any decision.”
Watson, who was the last man to lead the U.S. to an away Ryder Cup victory in 1993, said he had a “different philosophy.”
“It takes 12 players to win. It’s not pods,” the 65-year-old said, with barely-disguised disdain for such a modern fad.
”I did talk to the players, but my vice-captains were very instrumental in making decisions as to whom to pair with.
“Yes, I did mix-and-match a little bit from there, but you have to go with the evolution of the playing of the match and see who is playing the best and who to play with whom, and that’s what I did.”
Watson controversially sat Mickelson and partner Keegan Bradley out of both Saturday matches after winning their fourball but losing their foursomes on Friday and Watson, teeth gritted and sitting six people along from Mickelson as all 12 players were lined up on stage, was in no mood to apologize.
“I watched them play and they struggled some... they had a hard time hitting the fairways,” he said, this time with Mickelson adopting the five-mile stare.
“It got a little bit better as the match went on, but that concerns me so I put some players in there I thought could put the ball in the fairway maybe a little bit better.”
Jim Furyk, another veteran who has been on the losing side far too often for comfort, also struggled to put his finger on why the formerly dominant Americans are now losing so regularly.
“Everyone asks me what is the winning formula but if I could put my finger on it, I would have changed this shit a long time ago,” he said.
“But we haven’t and we are going to keep searching.”
Furyk also said he had no explanation for Europe’s dominant 7-1 success in the foursomes this week, especially as the U.S. has done well in that format in recent Ryder Cups and in the President’s Cup.
”I really thought we had a team here that set up well for foursomes,“ he said. ”I thought there was a lot of guys you could plug in and it was a difficult decision for the captains.
“We won fourballs 5-3 and got decimated 7-1 in the foursomes. All in all, it was too much to come back from but I have no answer to why we lost 7-1.”
The Americans can, however, draw hope for the future from the brilliant form shown at Gleneagles by their rookies -- Jordan Spieth (2 1/2 points), Patrick Reed (3 1/2) and Jimmy Walker (2 1/2) who headed the U.S. points standings.
“They scored eight-and-a-half points for our team, and that bodes well for the future of the American Ryder Cup team,” Watson said.
Editing by Ed Osmond