Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: September 1, 2016 11:27 p.m.
NORTON, Mass. — The Ryder Cup is a month away and Phil Mickelson already has identified a big problem with the American team.
In the Boston area for the Deutsche Bank Championship, the eight automatic qualifiers had their first team session Wednesday night at Gillette Stadium. They were given a tour of the New England Patriots' home and heard an inspirational speech from Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 hockey team that won Olympic gold.
And then it was time for golf. From a platform in the stadium, they hit wedges to a target about 80 yards away. It was closest to the pin, and Mickelson won. One problem.
"There was no left-handed clubs, and he hit it righty," Jordan Spieth said. "Phil hit it to about 4 feet right-handed on his second try, which made us all feel really bad. Because he sure let us know about it."
Mickelson wasn't done chirping the next day.
"It was a 60-degree wedge from only 80 yards. It wasn't like it was rocket science," he said Thursday after his pro-am round at the TPC Boston. "I feel like it identified a weakness in the U.S. team that we need to work on in the next four or five weeks, because if I'm hitting right-handed inside of them ... we've got time to fix it. But we've got an issue."
Then again, he only had to beat seven players.
Europe completed its 12-man team Tuesday when Darren Clarke made his three captain's picks. The U.S. team has just eight players at the moment. Not until the next two tournaments are over will Davis Love III announce three picks. A fourth pick will come after the Tour Championship, just five days before the Ryder Cup begins.
The reason behind the staggered picks is having the option to take a hot player.
That means two cups are at stake for a few dozen Americans — an audition for the Ryder Cup, and the FedEx Cup that offers a $10 million bonus and a five-year exemption. Love said earlier this week that the entire field at the Deutsche Bank Championship "has to be on our radar."
Zach Johnson got the final spot on the American team, but only after Rickie Fowler fell apart on the closing holes at The Barclays. Love said he felt Johnson would be freed up to perform better now that making the Ryder Cup team no longer hangs over him.
If that's the case, what to make of J.B. Holmes or Scott Piercy, Justin Thomas or Daniel Berger?
"I don't have that extra pressure," Spieth said. "That's a team that everybody want to be on ... as bad as anything they've tried to accomplish this year. Now the guys that are just off the list that are in consideration, they pretty much have a playoff with each other over the next couple weeks. And it certainly adds excitement for those watching. But for those guys, that's tough."
Mickelson doesn't see it that way. While the task force agreed to wait as long as possible to make the picks so they could identify the hot players, Love has said the three picks on Sept. 12 should be easier to make than the final pick on Sept. 25. Are the next two weeks really an audition? "I don't think there's that much pressure because I think the picks are fairly obvious," Mickelson said. "If we get who gets a hot hand, and we need that hot hand at the Ryder Cup and it gives us the best chance to win, then we have that option. For the most part, it's fairly obvious who the picks are without naming them."
Fowler figures to be one of them, even though he squandered his chance last week by making two bogeys and a double bogey over four holes at Bethpage Black. Fowler is the defending champion at the Deutsche Bank.
"It would have been nice to seal the deal last week," Fowler said. "But very confident with where the game's at and that we can put some good golf together and make sure that Davis gives us a pick."
With the staggered picks, the Ryder Cup touches every FedEx Cup playoff event, at least for those involved. Almost as an afterthought, the second playoff event begins Friday with the traditional Labor Day finish in Boston.
Patrick Reed moved to No. 1 in the standings with his victory at The Barclays. Chad Campbell got the 100th and final spot. The top 70 after this week will move on to the third playoff event at Crooked Stick next week.