by Jeff Skinner
Those that know the Royal Melbourne Golf Course warned us that we were about to see something really special. They were right. As if the course isn’t difficult enough, or the pressure isn’t great enough, the players had to battle the elements also. The wind whipped across Melbourne so much so that you had to “read the wind” on putts according to Phil Mickelson.
Even though there are only two rounds in the books there are a few heroes and a goat or two walking around Melbourne. Tiger Woods has been a disappointment. He and Steve Stricker got blown away on day one and he and Dustin Johnson (Johnson was zero help) lost in the second. Woods has won only one hole on his own so far and the four of them haven’t hit more than a handful of good shots.
Ernie Els is currently 0-2 for the tournament and that is certainly a disappointment but he could be looked on as the hero for the Internationals. Els, the most experienced Presidents Cup player has been handed the task of mentoring the young Ryo Ishikawa around Royal Melbourne. Ishikawa looks like he left his game, along with his girlfriend back in Japan. He has played miserably and Els has felt the pain.
The U.S. held on to their two point lead but it wasn’t an easy day on the course. On a stage like this each player feels the pressure to play well, not only for themselves but for their team. Phil Mickelson has appeared to become the de facto leader of the U.S. team and Bob Verdi offers a good look at Phil and his teammates. Mickelson loves the team competitions and says they are one of the things that he misses about college.
“I always enjoyed them,” said Mickelson. “After all, most of us guys who went to college, that’s what we miss most about school, being part of a team. But as the years have gone on, I realize, when you look back, you’re going to think about majors you’ve won, of course, and other tournaments that meant a lot to you. But you’re also going to cherish friendships that last a lifetime, and that’s what these events are all about.
“Lately, as an older player, I’ve been paired up with rookies or younger guys in team competition. But we’ve got a bunch of kids on this team, Webb Simpson and Bill Haas and Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar, who don’t need a whole lot of mentoring. Our captain, Fred Couples, has seen that and let them go. So Jim and I hooked up, which we’ve talked about before, and we complement each other pretty well. Man can make some putts.”
Phil takes an active role in building team unity and that means everything from “to the death” ping pong matches to busting chops, on everyone.
“You ask Michael Jordan who our most valuable player was in San Francisco,” said Couples, referring to the Americans’ conquest two Octobers ago. “Tiger played fabulous. But for keeping guys loose and in a relaxed mood, Michael will tell you Phil was our MVP.”
There’s more to life than cashing huge paychecks as they whirl around the world and Phil knows that. Contrary to what some may believe, he’s a real team player.