Tiger Woods will not be at Whistling Straits this week for obvious reasons. Phil Mickelson would, but not hit a single shot at the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1995.
The story hasn’t changed in the Ryder Cup, but marquee players have — at least when it comes to the beleaguered U.S. team. Woods is still recovering from a car accident, while Mickelson will end a streak of 12 straight Ryder Cups as a player, as a non-playing assistant captain for a team wrestling the Cup back from Europe.
This could prove disheartening for the thousands of people who would swim the bumpy trail to the shores of Lake Michigan to shout for the home team. The mere sight of Woods or Mickelson near a tea box usually causes wild celebration, especially as the days get longer and the wine is flowing.
Take a closer look, though, and it might not be such a bad thing for an American team desperately trying to reclaim the Cup on home soil. Because as talented as Woods and Mickelson are, they have – for the most part – been flops when it comes to the Ryder Cup.
No, they are not solely responsible for the Americans losing nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups and four of the last five. But as leaders of many of those teams, he also didn’t contribute much to them.
The losses over the years have been surprising enough, coming to European teams that on paper were never as talented as any of the American squads topped by Woods and Mickelson. Equally astonishing is the record for the two best American golfers of the last quarter.
While Mickelson holds the Ryder Cup record for most matches played (47), he also holds the record for most matches lost (22). Mickelson’s win percentage is just 46% (7 ties), and his devotion to the team concept has been questioned on several occasions over the years.
Meanwhile, Woods last won a Ryder Cup match in 2010. He has played in eight of them, and the last time he was on a winning team was in 1999, he dominated everything in golf.
While remaining reasonably healthy in his final Ryder Cup, Woods went 0-3-1 in 2012. He probably ended his Ryder Cup career in 2018 with a 0-4 scoreline in France, where Europe secured a win that was surprising if not only because of the considerable opposition on the other side.
How bad is his overall record? A traveler named JB Holmes has been on more winning Ryder Cup teams than Woods, whose Ryder Cup career will be remembered more for missed opportunities than stellar performances.
Why couldn’t Woods and Mickelson win big in the Ryder Cup while they’ve won big everywhere? It’s a question that has haunted Ryder Cup captains for years, who spent long restless nights trying to figure out how to match their talents with different teammates in team matches.
They lost with teammates in both the good and the bad. They lost in the best ball and lost in the alternate shot. They also lost in singles, the most devastating when Mickelson was defeated on the final day at The Belfry by Philip Price, who was then world number 119, as the US lost by one point.
And those into golf remember well the disastrous pairing of the two in 2008 when they almost melted before reaching the first tee. According to captain Hal Sutton, the idea was to steam the Euros with the top two players in the game, but it didn’t take long for the plan to fail miserably.
Woods and Mickelson lost their first best-ball match, then were more famously beaten in the alternate shot when Mickelson dropped a shot far enough away that Woods briefly covered his eyes and lost one in a 1-up defeat. Invincible took it.
Now both are out of the lineup – Mickelson’s first since the Ryder Cup debut a quarter-century ago – and America instead brings a young but immensely talented team to the Whistling Straits. While Woods stays at home in Florida, Mickelson will be an assistant captain, rolling around in a golf cart and cheering on his countrymen.
The torch has been passed, and will not be returned. Mickelson is 50, and, aside from his unlikely win at the PGA Championship earlier this year, trailing his competitive prime, Woods was so badly injured in his car accident that he never got a shot. Could kill which again matters.
It’s hard to believe that 22 years ago Woods and Mickelson were on the winning team at Brookline on the final day of America’s return, making the two probably see a lot of Ryder Cup glory in their futures.
“I never knew how great it felt to win the Ryder Cup,” Woods later said.
Incredibly, she hasn’t felt it since.