Hal Sutton: Tiger and Phil ‘have failed us' in Ryder Cup

Tiger_phil_ryder_337Former Ryder Cup captain and 1983 PGA Champion Hal Sutton said Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have failed in Ryder Cup competitions in an exclusive interview with Golf Magazine.

Sutton captained the 2004 U.S. Ryder Cup team, which lost 18.5 to 9.5 in the largest victory margin since 1981, and he was criticized afterward for pairing Mickelson and Woods, who lost both matches they played together. In an interview with Golf Magazine’s Alan Bastable, Sutton talked about how that Ryder Cup drove him away from the game and why he thinks Woods and Mickelson have not played up to their own standards in the Ryder Cup.

The press hammered you after your Ryder Cup team lost in 2004 at Oakland Hills. How difficult was that for you?

I quit. It drove me right out of the game. You needed to blame a body, so I caught the blame. So I said, "I'm going to go over here. I don't need you all." That's the only way I could get grounded again, and get focused again on what I know.

So you were fed up absorbing the backlash?

Yeah, I was fed up listening to it. People were saying things they didn't know anything about. There's no one person who can make a difference [in countering Europe's success] right now. Is it a whole lot different right now than it was then? No, it's not. There's nobody turning this around. We've created some real superstars in the U.S. who have failed us when it comes to [the Ryder Cup]. They don't fail because they don't have enough talent; they fail because there's too much for them to do.

You mean Tiger and Phil?

Yeah. I mean Tiger's Ryder Cup record [13-14-2] is not very good at all, but everyone expects him to carry the team. He can't get but five points. That ain't gonna win it. So everyone else has got to perform. One of the reasons I think Europe is better than we are is they know more of the game. They have all the shots instead of half the shots. We've been playing the game in the air constantly. It's easier to learn how to play the game in the air than it is on the ground, so it's easier for them to learn to adapt to our style than it is for us to adapt to their style.

Sutton also said that if he regretted pairing Mickelson and Woods on the first day, where they lost 2 and 1 to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in morning foursomes and then lost 1 up to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood in alternate shot in the afternoon. The body language between Woods and Mickelson was frosty at best [see photo], especially when Mickelson drove the ball practically off the property on 18 to ensure a loss to Clarke and Westwood in alternate shot.

Looking back, what would you have done differently as captain?

[Long pause] I wouldn't have paired Tiger and Phil together. But if I hadn't, we'd have gotten beat anyway, and somebody would have blamed me for [not pairing them together]. I mean, we weren't going to win. They were just playing that much better than us. On Friday evening, after we'd gotten trounced, I'm out there watching the last group, and I've got to go to the pressroom. I've got a headset on and [assistant captains] Jackie Burke and Steve Jones are on the other end. I said to Jackie and Steve, "We've got to sit Tiger or Phil, because we need to make a statement. I've got my opinion on who needs to sit. I need your calls, too." Jackie comes on and says, "Well, hell, Hal, sit'em both, because it ain't gonna make a damn bit of difference." I said, "Why'd you say that?" He said, "When you get in, I'll show you." And he did. He said, "Every American's got their shaft leaning back, every European's got their shaft leaning forward, and we ain't got enough time to teach'em the difference." Do you know why that is? Because every American is taught, by virtue of his environment, to hit the ball straight up in the air like that, and every European is taught to hit [it lower] and maneuver the ground. Oakland Hills requires you to play the ground game, and not one single American could get that figured out.

Photo: WireImages

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by Kevin Cunningham