The media had been scrutinizing U.S. captain Tom Watson’s performance all week, but in the team’s post-cup news conference even one of the captain’s own players was willing to question Watson.
Phil Mickelson, who was benched on Saturday for a complete day for the first time in his Ryder Cup career, was asked what it was about the formula that 2008 captain Paul Azinger used that was so successful.
“There were two things that allowed us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger did,” Mickelson said. “One was he got everybody invested in the process. … The other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us.
“We use that same process in the Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula.”
In one of the most awkward moments in U.S. Ryder Cup history, Watson seemed to fire back moments later.
“You know, it takes 12 players to win. It’s not pods. It’s 12 players,” he said.
Mickelson went on to explain that the U.S. team played its best golf in recent years when the players were invested in the process. When asked if the players had input in this year’s team Lefty’s take was telling.
“No. Nobody here was in any decision,” he said.
Watson seemed to contradict that statement when he said he, “used the experience and the thoughts of my vice captains a lot, and the players to some extent.”
Jim Furyk, the player after Mickelson with the most experience on this year’s team, was also asked his opinion on the contrasting styles of Watson and Azinger, who was the last U.S. captain to win a Ryder Cup.
“I think that I have a lot of respect for both gentlemen. I’ve known Phil my entire life. And I have a lot of respect for our captain,” Furyk said.
“I know he put his heart and soul in it for two years. He worked his ass off to try to provide what he thought would be the best opportunity for us. I don’t think it’s wise for either one of us to be pitted in the middle of that.”
Azinger, who captained the 2008 team at Valhalla in Kentucky, came up with a pod system whereby he put like-minded players together in groups of four heading into the week. They stayed together throughout practice rounds, and the pairings for four-ball and foursomes competition emerged from those groups. The U.S. won that Ryder Cup by the same score as Sunday’s defeat.
In the aftermath of another U.S. defeat, several American players not taking part in the Ryder Cup took to Twitter to endorse a return captaincy for Azinger in 2016 at Hazeltine in Minnesota, including Jason Dufner — who played on the team that lost at Medinah in 2012 — and Billy Horschel, who recently won the FedEx Cup.