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At Ryder Cup, Phil Mickelson setting table for future captaincy

CHASKA, Minn. -- Phil Mickelson will be a Ryder Cup captain someday. And by all accounts -- especially his -- he'll be a good one. But he's still got a lot of golf left in his 46-year-old body, and Mickelson is focused on seeing to it that Team U...

Sep 28, 2016; Chaska, MN, USA; Team USA golfer Phil Mickelson addresses the media before their practice round for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2016; Chaska, MN, USA; Team USA golfer Phil Mickelson addresses the media before their practice round for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

CHASKA, Minn. - Phil Mickelson will be a Ryder Cup captain someday. And by all accounts - especially his - he'll be a good one.

But he's still got a lot of golf left in his 46-year-old body, and Mickelson is focused on seeing to it that Team USA ends Europe's stranglehold on this biennial event - the Europeans have won the past three Ryder Cups and eight of the past 10 - as a player.

You can't help but notice, however, that the European domination has coincided with Mickelson's prime. America's most prolific modern-day Ryder Cupper, Mickelson has played a part in each of the U.S.'s eight defeats over the past two decades.

He is 16-19-6 in a U.S.-record 41 matches, and in 10 Ryder Cups has been on only two winning teams - in 1999 and 2008.

Mickelson isn't the only American player frustrated after two decades of defeat. "We're tired of losing this thing," Brandt Snedeker said. But Mickelson is the one who seems to howl loudest and longest.

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He was a full-on participant in the U.S.'s biggest gaffe, when captain Hal Sutton paired him with Tiger Woods in 2004, and the two best players in the world finished 0-2 as a team. On Wednesday, 12 years later, he was quick to deflect blame.

"That's an example of ... the captain putting us in a position to fail, and we failed monumentally, absolutely," Mickelson said. "But to say, well, you just need to play better, that is so misinformed."

Mickelson said that experiment was doomed from the beginning.

"We were told two days before that we were playing together," he said. "Had we known a month in advance, we might have been able to make it work. I think we probably would have made it work."

Not mentioned is the fact that Mickelson and Woods didn't say a word to each other during those two matches.

Two years ago, Mickelson was barely off the course at Gleneagles in Scotland, after a 16.5 to 11.5 European rout, when he lambasted U.S. captain Tom Watson for not consulting his players about anything.

PGA of America officials heard him loud and clear, and the Ryder Cup Task Force was formed, giving Mickelson and Woods, among others, heavy influence on future teams.

Mickelson says he likes where the U.S. team is now, and where it is heading. U.S. captain Davis Love III has included players in pretty much every decision he has made with this team. And when he hasn't asked for Mickelson's opinion, he has still gotten it.

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"When I got up and spoke to the team last night, you could see Phil inching forward in his seat, and he said, 'Can I add something to that, Captain?' 'Yes, please,'" Love said.

Players call that "Phil being Phil." And, this week, they like it.

Mickelson seems to be spending as much time stroking teammates as stroking putts. He's everywhere, with everybody.

"He's like a vice captain," Brandt Snedeker said.

"Phil, he's going to tell it like it is," Jordan Spieth said. "He's going to come up to each and every person and tell them something he really appreciates and likes about their game and how confident he is in how they are going to play. To have Phil Mickelson come right in your face and tell you that, it's really nice."

"Phil is, I think, kind of the backbone of the team," Love said. "He's been a team leader, gosh, I'd say the last six or eight teams."

There's no questioning Mickelson's passion for the Ryder Cup. You can bet he will captain the U.S. team someday. A guess would be at Whistling Straits in 2020, the year he turns 50. Only two Americans have played at that age; Raymond Floyd was 51 in 1993, and Jay Haas was 50 in 2004.

Mickelson, obviously, has perfected the art of telling people what he thinks. To transition into the captain the U.S. needs, he'll need to listen, as well.

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Members of the U.S. team say he's doing that this week. It seems Mickelson and Woods were the life of the party at the team dinner Monday, regaling everyone with Ryder Cup stories of the past - including their messed-up match-up in 2004.

Enough time has passed that they are able to laugh about it now. That's progress.

In fact, Mickelson and Woods, the fiercest of rivals all these years, seem to be forming some kind of bond through the Ryder Cup.

"The last few weeks, we've been talking on the phone multiple times a day," Mickelson said. "It's been really exciting for us because we've been on so many teams for so many years, and to have this much input and involvement in the process, it's been fun for Tiger and I to be a part of something like that."

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