Phil Mickelson chats with his teammates prior to the start of the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
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By Gary Van Sickle
Tuesday, October 07, 2014

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- The big Ryder Cup fiasco story has just about run its course.

We heard Phil Mickelson go off at the press conference. Anonymous team members leaked embarrassing details about Tom Watson’s behind-closed-doors blowup. And Watson offered a modest statement of apology.

It almost seems like old news now that football and the baseball playoffs have regained our attention. So where does Team USA go from here? Simple. Make Phil Mickelson the captain for the 2016 matches at Hazeltine. Phil has all the answers, or at least he believes he has more answers than Watson did.

Phil kind of, sort of declined the 2016 captaincy when it came up in the press conference. He joked about being on eight losing teams, backpedaling from the idea that he had all the answers. He also said he intends to play his way onto the 2016 squad. Well, that’s exactly why Phil should be the U.S. captain -- a playing captain. The last American to do that was Arnold Palmer in 1963, back when the Ryder Cup matches were mismatches in favor of the U.S.

I’ve written many times that Phil is this generation’s Arnie, the beloved and sometimes flawed champion who never gives up. Is the Ryder Cup captaincy so big that no player can also make wildcard picks and send out the foursome and fourball teams each day? Perhaps it is for most players, but not Phil. The fact that he’d be stepping into Arnie’s shoes and doing something that hasn’t been done in half a century would simply add to the theater.

There are two other obvious candidates for the captaincy job in 2016: Paul Azinger, who captained the 2008 team, the last one to actually win this thing, and Fred Couples, a popular and undefeated Presidents captain. Both are men of the people -- that is, they’re the kind of guys that other players of all ages want to hang out with. They’re fun, knowledgeable and passionate about team match play. They’re leaders. I am strongly behind either of them for captain.

But Phil puts an exclamation point behind the next captaincy and sends a message to the Europeans that the Americans are serious about getting unified and showing up with a serious plan to win. Phil’s performance in the team room Saturday night, according to reports, was the stuff of a leader. When it was his turn to talk, he went around the room and told a story about each of the 11 other players on the team. It was a masterstroke of psychology, and a room-warming move after the out of touch Watson had reportedly (and perhaps unintentionally) insulted his players.

Paul McGinley had every base covered for the Euros. That’s what Mickelson would do for the Americans. Old school Watson figured all he had to do was pick the team, make pairings and say a few inspirational words, not bond with the players. But the job has evolved beyond the basics. McGinley even added a fifth vice captain just to handle the fragile egos of the four players who weren’t playing each session, and that innovation proved valuable.

Give the 2016 captaincy to Phil and name him the outright player-captain right now. That puts this whole embarrassing episode to bed and lets the Americans start planning, looking ahead and rekindling hope. If Phil wants to get Azinger and Couples involved as vice-captains or associate captains or any other role, so much the better. Azinger built the blueprint that Mickelson believes the PGA of America and recent captains have strayed from, and it’s a valid point. I agree with Phil’s ideas for how the team should be run, even if I don’t like how and when he came forward with them, torpedoing the entire U.S. ship just to sink Watson. (Although the team-room details explain Phil’s motivation.)

Naming Phil as player-captain should be the next move. It lets Team USA, and all of us, move forward.

Let’s go to the incendiary Van Cynical Mailbag, still smoking hot from your pro-Phil responses. Thanks for all the comments, too many to use…

Van Cynical, If Watson owes each player an apology, don’t you owe Phil an apology for crucifying him in the press?... It’s your opinion but the last line (of your column) insinuating Phil was the reason for losing is crazy and incompetent reporting… You might want to read Bob Harig’s article and retract a few of your comments. Be nice to check facts before publishing stories. -- Joan via Twitter

Thanks, Joan. I strung several of your comments together since, as you noted, Twitter limits you on space. First, let me know what facts I had wrong about Phil’s blowup. I didn’t see any. Connecting Phil to those eight losses was an attention-getting device to close the story, but incompetent reporting? Nope. I think you meant incompetent writing. Phil has played on eight losing teams. That’s dead-on reporting, but I get your message -- we disagree. The team-room background, expertly dug up by Harig, doesn’t change my opinion of what Phil did, but it does explain his actions. Blaming teammates or a captain/coach minutes after a loss is a terrible look, very selfish and against every facet of the team concept. Was he doing it for the good of the team? It might turn out that way. Phil may ultimately have done Team USA a favor. But I still strongly disagree with him hijacking the team’s press conference and tainting the event. So no apology. But I have changed my mind about his motives, and thus my new Phil for Captain suggestion.

Van Cycle, Wasn’t Team USA all about “redemption?” Funny that the opposite of redemption is conflict, which they got in spades. -- Stephen Killick via Twitter

That redemption theme admittedly came up a bit short, Killer. What’s the catchphrase next time? “Can we vote on this, Captain?”

Vans, One takeaway from visiting Gleneagles is the fact that we have only one song. Any ideas for alternate USA chants? -- Chad Rucker via Twitter

I’ll nominate something contemporary (note sarcasm) like “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba or “I’ll Stand By You” by the Pretenders. Or let’s get Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri to encore their cheerleader routine from SNL.

Sickle, Pods? Team Europe has players from nine countries and they always play like a band of brothers. It’s impressive to see and feel. -- Marcia Ferguson via Twitter

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia… you’re so right. The Euros have a winning formula. They’re united in their desire to beat the U.S. in a way that the Americans never will be. Zinger’s pods are the closest the U.S. has come to matching that.

Van Sickle, Paul McGinley could do no wrong but to be fair, his picks did not play all that well -- a 2-5-3 record. -- The Bogey Train via Twitter

I’m pretty sure Watson would’ve loved that mark for his picks.

Van Cynical, I’m thinking maybe it’s all a structural problem. The teams are pretty much even. Every little something counts. -- Mike via Twitter

Agreed. Turn two match losses into two wins and you’re down to a coin flip. That said, I think the Europeans know something about playing in a Ryder Cup, a kind of trade secret, that the Americans don’t. And no, I don’t know what it is, either.

Vans, Phil and the rest are accomplished men. Watson ignored him and the team’s input. Phil was spot-on. -- OnelineWonder via Twitter

Thanks for the comment. I don’t disagree with his philosophy, just his timing.

Van Cynical, Europe has better players? If that’s the case, why aren’t they winning every major and every week? Too simple an answer. -- Brian R via Twitter

Um, they are winning every major. The last three by McIlroy, McIlroy and Kaymer, plus Kaymer again at The Players. Jim Furyk at No. 4 was the highest ranked American and he hasn’t won in three years. Seems pretty simple.

Vans, What is the reason Fred Couples has never been a Ryder Cup captain? He seems perfect for it. -- Dave Kateeb via Twitter

That’s a question for the PGA of America, Special K. I can only speculate that perhaps by Fred serving as the Presidents Cup captain several times, the PGA of America feels that anointing him would hurt the image of their “brand.” Honestly, I can’t come up with any legit reasons not to pick Fred. He is perfect for it.

Vans, Tiger will lead the U.S. at the Ryder Cup one day. Do you see him being a winning captain? -- Bradley Hendricks via Twitter

I’m not sure I buy your basic assumption. I’m not positive Tiger will ever be a Ryder Cup captain. If he is, he’s got as good a shot at winning as any U.S. captain.

Van Cynical, Any regret for your reactionary hit on Phil now that some actual reporting was done on the team room? You should. -- Duffpdx via Twitter

Yeah, I regret that the whole American team sprinted out of the media center and rushed to golf carts to get away without talking to us, as they traditionally do every Sunday night after the Ryder Cup -- even when they won in 2008. That said if I were a player I would’ve run for cover, too, after that press conference.

Van Shanksalot, The drama never ends with all this Ryder Cup stuff. It’s time to let it go. -- Klaugh56 via Twitter

Couldn’t agree more. The sooner a U.S. captain is named, the sooner this story goes the way of that long-ago crap about Phil and the FBI and supposed insider trading. Who do the Steelers play next?

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