Hal Sutton Opens Up About His 2004 Ryder Cup Miscues

September 28, 2016

CHASKA, Minn. — Hal Sutton and Tom Watson have at least one thing in common: They’ve both had their Ryder Cup captaincy strongly criticized by Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson famously aired some dirty laundry after the 2014 Ryder Cup loss at Gleneagles and pointed a finger directly at Watson. At his press conference here at Hazeltine Wednesday morning, Mickelson brought up the 2004 Ryder Cup debacle, specifically how Sutton handled Mickelson and Woods, the two top-ranked players in the world at the time. Mickelson said that Sutton did not give he and Woods enough notice that they would be paired togther and thus Mickelson did not have enouhg time to adjust to playing with Woods’ ball.

“That put us in a position to fail and we failed monumentally,” Mickelson said Wednesday. “To say, well, you just need to play better, that is so misinformed, because you play how you prepare.” (You can read our full recap from Mickelson’s press conference here.)

Not long later, golf writers tracked down Sutton for a reaction. While he held his tongue mostly in check, the 58-year-old made clear he was ready to “shoulder the blame for Phil’s poor play.” Check out this Q&A taped by GolfWeek.

Ironically, Sutton then told Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard that “The thing the Ryder Cup doesn’t need is drama…Phil created a lot of drama that week.” 

For even more, check out GOLF.com executive editor Alan Bastable’s sit down with Sutton back in 2014. Sutton opened up about how he handled the media criticism that week, what he would do differently, and ultimately why he thinks the U.S. would have lost no matter who he paired together. We’ve excerpted a portion of that interview below. For the full interview, click here.

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.

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.

What was the team meeting like on Friday night? Did you lay into them?

I didn’t really lay into them, I just told the truth. I said, “Guys, our side has 12 wives who think they understand the game, but the only reason they’re around the game is because you all are. And they’re all patting you on the back saying, ‘It’ll be better tomorrow.’ I said, “I grew up in a household where my dad patted me on the back with his fist” — not really, but that’s the way it felt. He was constantly telling me that I wasn’t very good. “My job as the captain of this team is to fall somewhere between loving you and beating the s — out of you. And, oh yeah, you’re all supposed to be accomplished at this, and I know you want this, so go prove it.”