There was speculation that Phil Mickelson might be left off the United States team for the Presidents Cup this week at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J.
However, Steve Stricker polled the 10 players already on the team and his vice-captains before making his two captain’s picks, and the decision was unanimous.
Everyone wanted Lefty on the squad.
“We all know what Phil brings to the table,” Stricker said in making the pick after the 47-year-old Mickelson tied for sixth in the Dell Technologies Championship, the second event of the FedExCup playoffs.
“He’s been on 20-plus (United States teams). He’s an important part of all these teams. He, too, is starting to play better. He guarantees me he’s on the right track.”
Mickelson has played on 23 consecutive U.S. teams in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup. He has never missed the Presidents Cup as the Americans have built a 9-1-1 advantage over the International team.
Stricker knows what Mickelson means in the team room, with a younger teammate in the doubles events and to the fans in the New York-New Jersey area.
“I played with Phil in a U.S. Open at Bethpage (also in New Jersey), and it’s incredible how much support he gets from those people,” Stricker said of New York area sports fans. “So hopefully he’ll use that to his advantage. He’ll be ready. He’s shown that over the years.
“Phil brings a unique dynamic to New York. He’s loved everywhere, but especially New York. He’s a favorite son.”
Mickelson owns a 23-16-12 record in the Presidents Cup, although he is only 3-5-3 in singles. He has a chance this week to pass Tiger Woods (24-15-1) for the most matches won in Presidents Cup history.
Lefty is grateful to get another chance, even though he hasn’t won since claiming his 42nd PGA Tour victory and fifth major title in
the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.
“It means a lot to me,” said Mickelson, who finished in the top 10 on eight occasions this season. “What means a lot to me this year is that the captains and the players wanted me on the team even though I didn’t get the spot on my own. It meant a lot that they wanted me there, because I really love being around these guys. I respect and know how great these guys are. And this team is a special team.”
Mickelson also was a captain’s pick by Jay Haas two years ago, posting a 3-0-1 record as the U.S. pulled out a 15 1/2 to 14 1/2 victory at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea.
Lefty’s experience might be extremely valuable this time because Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Chappell, Charley
Hoffman and Brooks Koepka are rookies on the U.S. Presidents Cup team.
“We do have a lot of first-timers, (so) we’re going to have to be cognizant of putting them with guys who have been around the block many times,” Stricker said in setting up is team for the two-man foursomes and four-ball matches. “You have to make them as comfortable as you can because it is nerve-wracking. You get excited and you start swinging differently, you get more amped up.
“But these young kids are fearless. Kisner doesn’t look like a first-timer. He just rammed it down our throats at Colonial. These guys are bulldogs. Chappell has been there a lot and finally got his first win this year. And Justin played great this year. These guys are ready.”
Not to mention that Koepka is the U.S. Open champion and Thomas won the PGA Championship.
The U.S. team has won six consecutive Presidents Cup since a memorable 17-17 tie in 2003 at Fancourt Hotel and Country Club in George, South Africa, where Woods and Ernie Els played three extra holes in an effort to break the deadlock before darkness halted play.
The only International victory came by a 20 1/2 to 12 1/2 score in 1998 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Black Rock, Australia.
International captain Nick Price of Zimbabwe will try to break the losing streak with a team that includes Jason Day, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman of Australia; Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace of South Africa; Hideki Matsuyama of Japan; Si Woo Kim of South Korea; Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela; Adam Hadwin of Canada and captain’s picks Emiliano Grillo of Argentina and Anirban Lahiri of India.
Stricker will be counting on veterans Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson because even U.S. team members Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler are relatively young.
“(Mickelson) certainly has whatever that ‘X factor’ is that you can use in the team room,” Kuchar said.
The consensus is that Stricker made the right choice in Lefty.
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