GLENEAGLES, Scotland — This week Phil Mickelson will tee off in his 10th career Ryder Cup, and while it’s unclear if it will be the last of his career, we now know this:
He won’t go out quietly.
“He talks smack … he talks the way you're supposed to be talking in the locker room,” said captain Tom Watson on Wednesday morning. “He talks the locker room talk and he gets people talking back to him. That's what you have to do.”
That afternoon, Mickelson stepped to the podium, leaned into the microphone, and illustrated Watson’s point. When asked whether the U.S. players are as cohesive as their European counterparts, Mickelson quipped: “Well, not only are we able to play together, we also don't litigate against each other and that's a real plus, I feel, heading into this week.”
It was a clean body blow delivered to Rory McIlroy, who is currently suing Graeme McDowell’s management company, Horizon Sports. And in case you were wondering, yes, a potential Mickelson-McIlroy showdown now ranks as this week’s Main Event.
Mickelson’s press conference zinger wasn’t the sort of line you’d expect from an elder statesman who may be entering his Ryder Cup swan song. Ray Floyd is the oldest American to play in this event, when at age 51 he went 3-1 for Tom Watson’s winning U.S. team at the Belfry in 1993. Mickelson, 44, didn’t mention Floyd, but he made it clear that he doesn’t see his Ryder Cup career concluding at Gleneagles.
“I savor and I cherish every team event, Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, every team event, that week is a very special week. It's been 19 years that I've made it without being a pick. I was a pick in '94, and the last 19, I've made it on my own. I don't know why I would expect it to stop,” he said. “I expect to keep playing well and play even better over the coming years. I followed my worst year prior to this in 2003 with one of my best in 2004 and I expect to do the same next year.”
On a bright, crisp morning, Mickelson played his practice session alongside Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Mickelson and Bradley formed the best pairing for the U.S. in the 2012 Cup at Medinah, where they electrified the home crowd while going 3-0. Get ready to see that duo again soon.
“I've got a good partner that obviously I'm going to play again with Keegan — I don't think I'm letting go of any secrets here,” Mickelson said. “If you've noticed, we've played together these first few rounds and we seem to have a good partnership, and he brings out some of my best golf and I'm very optimistic that I can improve on my record.”
Mickelson 10th Ryder Cup appearance is an American record, and this week he’ll look to improve on his overall mark, 14-18-6. He was no lock to make the U.S. team heading into August, but a rousing runner-up finish at the PGA Championship pushed him onto the team on points and salvaged a buzzkill season. Mickelson withdrew from his last competitive round, at the FedEx Cup’s BMW Championship, citing fatigue, but Bradley confirmed that his partner has entered Gleneagles recharged and in full command of his game.
“Man, he is playing so good. I keep telling him, this is — he's rolling it better than — I'm so pumped. I've got such a good partner,” Bradley said, barely able to contain his excitement. “He's clearly been working back home and he's clearly been, you know, on the range and putting and playing. And he's playing great and he's motivated to win this Ryder Cup.”
Mickelson is pumped. He’s fresh. And Wednesday he fired off the line of the week. Friday he’ll need his clubs to do the talking.