By Mark Lamport-Stokes
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – Phil Mickelson sparked a verbal spat with former United States captain Hal Sutton at Hazeltine on Wednesday for events that occurred during the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills.
Mickelson criticized Sutton for his late decision that week to pair the American left-hander with Tiger Woods, the world’s two top-ranked players at the tine who went on to lose both matches they played against Europe.
“We were told two days before that we were playing together, and that gave us no time to work together and prepare,” Mickelson told reporters during the build-up to this week’s Ryder Cup.
“He (Woods) plays a very high-spin ball and I play a very low-spin ball, and we had to come up in two days with a solution.”
Mickelson and Woods 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.
“I’m not trying to knock anybody here, because I actually loved how decisive Captain Sutton was,” said Mickelson. “I feel like that’s a sign of great leadership to be decisive.
“Had we had time to prepare, I think we would have made it work and could have had some success. But that’s an example of starting with the captain, that put us in a position to fail and we failed monumentally, absolutely.”
Sutton, who was one of several former Ryder Cup captains who visited the U.S. team room at Hazeltine on Tuesday, shot back a verbal volley in Mickelson’s direction later on Wednesday.
“I find it amusing that that’s an issue at the 2016 Ryder Cup,” Sutton told Golfweek magazine. “I think Phil better get his mind on what he needs to have it on this week instead of on something that happened 10 years ago.
“You all write it the way you see it instead of wanting me to do this. I mean, my God, somebody’s got to be the fall guy. If it needs to be me, I can do that. If he wants to put the blame on me, then let him do it.
“If I still need to shoulder the blame for Phil, I’ll do that.”
However Sutton was quick to argue that Mickelson had changed his golf equipment the week before the 2004 Ryder Cup, a switch that he believe let down the U.S. team.
“He didn’t even call me and tell me he was changing the equipment,” Sutton told Golf Digest. “And he changed not only equipment, he changed ball too.
“So, print that. Print that. Print that. He let his whole team down.
“So he’s talking about Hal Sutton? He let his whole team down.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)