By Mark Lamport-Stokes
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – Phil Mickelson has apologized for sparking a verbal spat with former United States captain Hal Sutton at Hazeltine National over events that occurred during the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills.
Mickelson on Wednesday criticized Sutton for his decision 12 years ago to pair the left-hander with Tiger Woods on two day’s notice before the world’s two top-ranked players went on to lose both matches they played against Europe.
Mickelson and Woods, put “in a position to fail”, were beaten 2&1 by Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in the opening fourball matches at Oakland Hills before losing one down to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood in the foursomes.
The U.S. ended that week by slumping to a crushing defeat by 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2 with Sutton widely slammed for his decision to pair Mickelson and Woods, two players who were never particularly close.
“He (Sutton) and I have communicated and he knows how sorry I am that I brought that up,” Mickelson told Golf Channel on Thursday at Hazeltine ahead of Friday’s opening foursomes matches.
“I never should have used a specific example and put him totally on the spot. I wasn’t thinking. I was trying to convey the importance of the captain and so forth and use a specific example. I never should have done that.”
Mickelson also regretted undermining the “family environment” at Hazeltine where former U.S. Ryder Cup captains such as Sutton, Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Lehman have been prominent in the U.S. team locker room.
“One of the things we have really tried to do this year is bring back the past captains and create this inclusive family feel,” said Mickelson, who is competing in his 11th successive Ryder Cup this week, having made his debut in 1995.
“It’s so fun to see him (Sutton) and Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins and Tom Lehman here, and Corey Pavin, all the past Ryder Cup captains. We want to create this kind of family environment and I feel awful that I created that negativity.
“I am so, so sorry,” said Mickelson, who played a pivotal role in the 11-man task force created by the PGA of America after the 2014 Ryder Cup to identify how the U.S. could compete more successfully.
(Editing by Larry Fine)