U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker is on the clock and will have one big decision to make come early September: What to do about Phil Mickelson?
Mickelson, winner of the PGA Championship this year at Kiawah Island, has not secured an automatic spot on the U.S. team, but that stunning victory clearly makes him part of the conversation to be one of Stricker’s six captain's picks.
After missing the 2019 Presidents Cup, Mickelson’s team-event days seemed to be behind him, and at the start of this season he wasn't viewed as a threat to make a stacked U.S. team bound for Whistling Straits.
But then the 51-year-old caught lighting in bottle to win his sixth major. Now that the final major of the year has been put to bed, Mickelson seems to have reverted to playing like he was prior to the PGA Championship — not terribly well.
Before Kiawah, Mickelson didn’t have a top-10 finish in 2021. Since his win at the PGA, he has not recorded single a top 10. The 12-time member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team has no explanation for the turnaround in fortune.
“If I knew, I’d tell you. I just don’t know,” said Mickelson on Thursday at Royal St. George's, after he shot an 80 and eventually missed the cut, the seventh missed cut in his Open career.
Mickelson suggested after his second round that he was having some focus challenges, which is hardly what Stricker wants to hear if deciding whether the left-hander deserves a pick.
Mickelson flew overseas early to prepare for the British Open and said he felt ready to win his second Claret Jug. Ultimately, Mickelson shot 80-72-152 and left with this: “I don’t have great answers”.
So, back to Stricker. Now what?
Stricker surely must account for the fact that Mickelson can be divisive. In 2006, he changed equipment the week of the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills and didn’t practice with the team. He was then paired with Tiger Woods for the first two sessions, lost them both and criticized his captain, Hal Sutton.
Mickelson was just as difficult following a lopsided U.S. loss in 2016 at Gleneagles, where he tossed Captain Tom Watson under the bus in a post-event press conference. In front of the team and media, Mickelson lashed out about his limited playing time. Stricker was as assistant captain to Watson and saw the display firsthand.
Done out of frustration or not, the incident occurred and it's part of Mickelson's resume. His career record in the event is 18-22-7. He's been a star on U.S. teams, and, at times, a liability.
The real question is what does Mickelson bring to the party this year? How can he be valuable?
Currently, Stricker's team of auto-qualifiers would include Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele.
Those on the bubble include Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Harris English and Patrick Cantlay. Which leaves Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Webb Simpson and Scottie Scheffler among those waiting in the wings. Mickelson is 17th on the points list through the British Open.
Maybe the toughest question of all is this: Who would Stricker drop for Phil Mickelson? The decision will be coming soon.