Phil Mickelson’s remarks against Tom Watson after a loss at Gleneagles came after the US Ryder Cup captain had ripped players and dismissed their gift to him, ESPN has reported.
The website story, citing four unnamed sources who were in the team meeting on the penultimate night of the biennial team golf showdown a week ago in Scotland, said Watson mishandled a key session and it was left for Mickelson to salvage some motivation for the Americans, who entered the final day trailing Europe 10-6 and eventually lost 16 1/2 to 11 1/2.
Watson, at 65 the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history, guided the Americans to their most recent win in Europe in 1993 and was brought back in hopes of inspiring another victory.
But according to the report, his methods likely alienated the game’s top current US talent.
Watson was criticised for decisions about pairings, including not playing Mickelson on day two in either pairs format and benching star rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed after an opening victory Friday.
After the loss, Mickelson spoke out about what changes he felt were needed, a major repudiation of the methods Watson had used.
Watson had also insisted that avenging a comeback win by Europe two years earlier was a major motivation even as players almost to a man dismissed that idea, a sign before the event began that captain and players were not on the same page.
ESPN said Watson began the Saturday meeting with players by noting they were bad at foursomes, a format where they were outscored 7-1 overall, and then began to ridicule some European players.
After US Ryder Cup veteran gave Watson a gift, a replica of the Ryder Cup trophy signed by every player, Watson told them it meant nothing to him if he could not lift the real trophy on Sunday, a moment that could have been motivationally intended but taken as ingratitude.
When team members were invited to speak, Mickelson went last and spoke personally to each player, moving to try and rally spirits for a last-day fightback, according to the story.
Watson also reportedly greeted players after lost matches Sunday by saying they should have played better, a refrain repeated when asked what was needed to happen for the US team to overcome the recent domination of the rivalry by Europe.
At the closing news conference, it was Mickelson who suggested a return to more player involvement in who plays when and a “pod” system where smaller groups work through assistants to promote greater involvement and communication by all.
The system was used by Paul Azinger in 2008 when the Americans beat Europe at Valhalla.
Tension filled the air, Hunter Mahan squirming as he stared at Mickelson while seated to his left and Furyk saying he did not want to get in the middle of the discussion.