Mickelson’s FedExCup results may determine Presidents Cup fate
August 11, 2017
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Phil Mickelson comments on career before the PGA Championship
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A week ago, U.S. Presidents Cup Captain Steve Stricker asked Phil Mickelson to show him something. To make a positive statement with his golf game.
Stricker wasn’t entirely comfortable with the request. After all, Mickelson has played for his country more times in team competition than any other golfer. Oh, and he’s also won five majors and 42 PGA TOUR events, and already has a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
But when Mickelson – who has played in every Presidents Cup since its inception in 1994, as well as every Ryder Cup since 1995 -- told Stricker he really wanted to make this year’s U.S. team, the captain had no choice but to respond the way he did. Mickelson was 17th on the points list in which just the top 10 automatically qualify. There was work to be done.
“I told him I would like to see him play well here on out, to show me something basically,” Stricker said. “That doesn’t sound right coming from a guy like me talking to Phil. ‘Hey, show me something.’ That doesn’t sound right. That’s basically what I said.
“Show me that you are playing good at the end of the year.”
Unfortunately for Mickelson, he showed nothing this week in his brief stay at the PGA Championship. He followed Thursday’s 8-over 79 with a 3-over 74 that left him at 11 over. The 153 strokes he needed to complete two rounds is the second-highest total in the 13 major cuts he’s missed in his career. He shot 79-76—155 in the 1999 Open Championship.
The good news (if you can call it that) was he made three birdies Friday after failing to make a birdie the previous day.
The bad news is he missed the cut at the PGA Championship for the first time since 1995.
The worst news is that at a key time of the season, with his U.S. team streak on the line, Mickelson is at a loss for answers. And has lost his focus.
“It’s not like I’m hitting the ball crooked,” a glum Mickelson said outside the Quail Hollow clubhouse Friday. “I’m just hitting it in the wrong spots. Not really controlling my thought process, where I want the ball to go.
“I’m not real focused out there. I’m having a tough time visualizing the shot. I’m having a tough time controlling my thoughts and not letting it wonder to what I don’t want to have happen.”
That’s not exactly what Stricker wants to hear. Unaware of when Mickelson played on Friday, Stricker was told of the missed cut.
“He’s got a couple of events, probably in the FedExCup Playoffs,” Stricker said. “That’s all we’re going to have before we make the pick. Hopefully he can get hot in there.”
Mickelson’s next start with be the FedExCup opener, THE NORTHERN TRUST, which starts Aug. 25 at Glen Oaks. Although Mickelson will likely drop from his current spot of 45th in FedexCup points, he’s guaranteed to advance to the second FedExCup event, the 100-man field at the Dell Technologies Championship.
The top 10 players in Presidents Cup points after TPC Boston will earn guaranteed spots. Two days later, Stricker will announce his two captain’s picks.
That means Mickelson has two events to climb inside the top 10. Otherwise, his fate – and that string of 23 consecutive years of representing the U.S. – will be left in the hands of others.
“If I can play well in those, I have a chance to get on the team on my own,” said Mickelson, who won at TPC Boston in the inaugural FedExCup year of 2007. “If I play well in them and don’t make it, I have a chance to be a pick.
“But I’ve got to play well in them is the thing.”
Two years ago, Mickelson needed a captain’s pick from Jay Haas to make the U.S. team. At that time, Mickelson was 30th in Presidents Cup points and had not been particularly impressive in those first two FedExCup events. But he did have a couple of top-20 finishes in the last two majors that year … unlike this year, when he’s missed the cut at The Open and the PGA.
It was the first time Mickelson had needed a captain’s pick since 1994, but Haas and his assistants recognized the value of Mickelson’s intangibles, as well as his experience. Mickelson rewarded them by going 3-0-1 and handily beating Charl Schwartzel 5 & 4 in singles to help the Americans retain the Cup.
Stricker is well aware of those intangibles. While he has the final decision on the captain’s picks, he plans to have buy-in from his assistants as well as the 10 players who automatically qualify. If Mickelson is not one of those 10, then he must rely on support in the team room.
“We need the best guys playing the best at the end of the year going forward,” Stricker said. “That’s what we’re going to be looking at. …
“I think it’s important to get the whole team vested in those other two players that we’re going to pick.”
The decisions won’t be easy. Stricker said he’s keeping a close eye on anybody inside the top 20 in Presidents Cup points, and even players beyond that. He specifically mentioned Zach Johnson, who is currently 28th and has played well in his last three starts – including a second-place finish at last week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. Johnson was creeping up the leaderboard Friday afternoon when play was suspended due to weather.
“If he can have another good solid run here through the rest of the year, he’s a guy I’m looking at too,” Stricker said of Johnson, a four-time Presidents Cup team member – and Mickelson’s partner two years ago in Korea. “Anybody, if they can get hot, we’re all going to give a good look to.”
Mickelson is not hot. But he will spend next week seeking to regain his focus.
“I don’t feel like I did two years ago where I’m searching for my game or I’m trying to find it or trying to strike it well,” Mickelson said. “I have great practice sessions. Drove it fine. Just not real focused when I’m out there.”
So, Mickelson was asked, how does he work on something mental like that?
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I’ll have to figure it out.”
Hopefully it’s soon. He’s running out of time.