This year’s Ryder Cup will be held in France, which is a bit like celebrating the Fourth of July in Cuba. A country with virtually no golf tradition and a 10-percent fan base was awarded one of the game’s most prestigious and lucrative events – yet another baffling decision by the folks who manage the matches overseas.
Given how the players themselves don’t get paid to participate, it’s hard not to notice all the fiscally related Internet references to the upcoming bout between the United States and Europe. Economic impact. A huge deal for Paris … The City of Light needs help with its tourism revenue? When The New York Times recently asked French tour pro Michael Lorenzo-Vera how his nation felt about its host status, MLV sounded nothing like a VIP.
“People don’t care about the Ryder Cup,” Lorenzo-Vera said. “Honestly, nobody knows there’s going to be a Ryder Cup in France. Golf is not a good thing here. It’s for rich people and spoiled kids.”
Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive officer, responded to such chatter by saying the French are buying tickets at a record pace, all of which probably means nothing to American golf fans, many of whom just want to see the Yanks win a Ryder Cup on foreign soil for the first time in a quarter-century.
Neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson has been part of a victorious U.S. squad overseas. For all of his brilliance over the years, Woods has made only one appearance on a winning team on either side of the Atlantic, way back in 1999. Mickelson has won three Ryder Cups. He played a crucial role in the triumphs at Valhalla (2008) and Hazeltine (2016), both of which Woods missed due to injury, but Lefty’s singles losses to Phillip Price (2002) and Justin Rose (2012) proved pivotal in the outcome.
The low point in the 25-year road losing streak came in 2014, when Europe blew out the U.S. and Mickelson called out Tom Watson for his ineffectiveness as a captain. A feud between the two legends, origins unknown, had been simmering for years. Mickelson’s criticism did lead to the formation of a task force that altered the way America handles its Ryder Cup business, but the results of those changes still must be considered inconclusive.
So, France is a biggie, and all indications are that Woods and Mickelson will occupy center stage for the U.S. once again. Skipper Jim Furyk has made it relatively clear that he’ll add both to the team if they don’t finish among the top eight qualifiers – Mickelson is 10th in the standings, and Woods is 31st. Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte, formerly a longtime colleague of mine, has even named Bryson DeChambeau as a possible partner for Woods, which leaves me to wonder….
When was the last time that a guy in 31st place was slotted into the lineup in early July?
Rosaforte actually reported the pairing a month ago, and there’s still way too much premium-field golf remaining this summer for Furyk or anyone else to be handing out captain’s picks. Woods has a 13-17-3 career record at the Ryder Cup, including 9-16-1 in matches with a partner. Mickelson is 18-20-7 overall, and there have been stretches, particularly in the mid-2000s, when both superstars were blamed for America’s shortcomings.
Their infamous pairing in 2004 was a disaster – a pair of first-day losses that left the Yanks in a deep hole and U.S. captain Hal Sutton wearing a dunce cap. Mickelson had just made a huge equipment change. Woods never wanted to play with Lefty and privately resented the lack of discussion involved before Sutton made out his lineup.
Making the current situation even more complex is that Woods (24-15-1) and Mickelson (26-16-13) both have excellent Presidents Cup records. That event is a very different animal, however, and only leaves us to wonder why the two haven’t performed better against Europe. In the final analysis, both players need to show us more before they become locks on the 2018 Ryder Cup team.
Are Woods and Mickelson two of America’s 12 best players right now? That’s a very tough question to answer. Over the next 2½ months, it may not get any easier.
John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org