When asked if he had a desire to be the next United States Ryder Cup team captain Phil Mickelson should have said yes. Then all of us who disagree with the timing of his vitriol could forgive and forget. But he said no. Actually his exact words were “Oh, no, no — I’ve been on eight losing teams”. This unfortunate mentality leaves the U.S. team with a void at the top where the current American player with the most Ryder Cup experience and influence is unwilling to accept more of leadership role. Yes, Mickelson will be a Ryder Cup captain eventually, (Bethpage 2014???) and yes, his performance at Sunday’s now infamous Ryder Cup press conference was blunt, honest and perhaps accurate. But in order for his opinions to carry significant weight he must be willing to support his words with action otherwise he runs the risk of coming off as shallow, bitter and petulant which, with the current tumultuous state of the entire U.S. Ryder Cup program, is the last thing anyone who professes to love and embrace the competition should desire.
Pods or no pods, the most unsettling and astounding aspect of this press conference was the overall lack of accountability by both the Mickelson and captain Tom Watson which has sadly become indicative of American athletes and athletic programs in general. (see University of Michigan football.) Athletes should be allowed to criticize their leaders. Public or private people in positions of power must be held accountable. Would it have been better for Mickelson to question Watson’s strategy behind closed doors and away from the glare of the cameras? Sure. But maybe he had already voiced his displeasure privately and after nothing changed he felt the need to air his and the other players grievances in a much more public forum. And Watson didn’t exactly take on the responsibility of this latest American failure when at the press conference he said that it takes “12 players” to make for a successful Ryder Cup.
Both Mickelson and Watson are to an extent correct but the real issue for the U.S. Ryder Cup team moving forward is a lack of leadership not just from the captain but from the players as well. The primary job of the coach/captain is to put their players in a position to succeed. Win or lose a leader must be willing to take responsibility for the final outcome. But players too must understand that a coach controls only so much and that ultimately success or failure is determined by their performance. Mickelson and Watson exhibited none of the characteristics of true leadership during that Ryder Cup press conference. It wasn’t Tom Watson’s fault that the U.S. teams three top ranked players Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar combined for a total of two points during the competition. Conversely, his captain’s picks underperformed and his lineup decisions were curious at best. The blame needs to be shouldered by somebody and that usually means the captain and star player yet both Watson and Mickelson reluctant to accept that responsibility.
The concern is that the pool of future American players and captains doesn’t get it either which means that Sunday will not be the last time we watch a star player and a coach pointing the finger at one another. To bring it full circle, if Phil Mickelson were to accept the challenge of being the next U.S. team Ryder Cup captain/player at Hazeltine in 2016 then win, lose or draw he’ll have no one to blame except himself. Which is the way it should be.