Phil Mickelson: Was Ryder Cup Humbling a Turning Point in His Career?

Mike DudurichContributor INovember 14, 2012

Phil Mickelson couldn't believe what happened to him on Sunday afternoon at the Ryder Cup.
Phil Mickelson couldn't believe what happened to him on Sunday afternoon at the Ryder Cup.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Phil Mickelson is a very complicated man.

He’s an intelligent chap—one who can discuss just about any issue, inside or outside the world of golf. And whether he does or not, Mickelson can be very convincing when making a point about just about anything.

He’s also one of the most creative guys you’ll ever meet. On the course, he has become the absolute best in the game in terms of pulling off flop shots that 98 percent of PGA Tours would never even think of attempting.

Mickelson has met very few shots on the golf course he wasn’t positive he could pull off. Remember the field goal he kicked with that 6-iron shot between the two trees from the right rough on Augusta National's 13th hole that spectacularly resulted in a birdie?

Somewhere between that thoughtful intelligent guy and the go-for-broke free swinger is a golfer who has put together quite a remarkable career. Forty PGA Tour victories, four major championships, nine Presidents Cup and nine Ryder Cup teams and a tidy $67 million in career earnings qualify for remarkable career status, I think.

But with Mickelson, there’s always been a feeling of him being something of an underachiever. Looking at the list of accomplishments might make that statement a bit suspect, but the feeling was that there could be even more with him.

He’s never been a great Ryder Cup player. A man of his talent and resume should be a leader in that biennial event. But until this year, Mickelson didn’t even win that much in the Ryder Cup, let alone be a leader.

When the United States and European teams gathered at Medinah Country Club in Chicago, Mickelson teamed with rookie Keegan Bradley to form the best pair the United States had. They were 3-0 before sitting out Saturday afternoon’s matches. Mickelson did lose a very critical singles match on Sunday to Justin Rose as the United States blew a six-point lead.

All the momentum Mickelson had built up playing with the sometimes overly-enthusiastic Bradley, who put on an amazing demonstration of the wisdom of putting drives in the fairway, went up in smoke when Rose made better shots coming down the stretch on Sunday.

"I had a great couple of days playing with Keegan as a partner," he said, via Justin Bergman of The Huffington Post. "And I saw some things where I can improve my game and I have this new kind of excitement and energy that Keegan has, and it's rubbed off on me and I am excited to play and work and practice.

“I think the first two weeks following the Ryder Cup was a really tough low, one of the biggest lows of my career," he said. “It was one of the biggest disappointments that I've had to deal with. That disappointment will last a lot longer than a month. I still feel disappointment from it. I still feel that over the next two years, we'll still have the same disappointment from not winning this year's Ryder Cup.”

Remember that feeling discussed earlier about looking for more from Lefty? I’m having a bit of a different feeling having seen and heard how Mickelson has responded to that Sunday smackdown.

He knew how important his match was against Rose and was 1-up with four holes to play. Rose birdied the final two holes to win. That had to cut this proud man to the core and no doubt is the center of the deep disappointment he has felt and continues to feel.

The 42-year-old native of Southern California seemed energized at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions event, firing rounds of 66-69-66-68 and finishing in a tie for second.

It certainly sounds as though some motivation has arisen from those ashes at Medinah and that could conceivably propel to put together a Vijay Singh-like run through his 40s. Singh has 22 wins after turning 40 and has a chance to get a few more before turning 50 in February.

Mickelson has won three times since he turned 40, and if he can stay healthy, the possibilities are endless. He announced in mid-2010 that he had been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, which is an inflammatory form of arthritis that hit him suddenly and had him in a near-crippled state that summer.

Medication has kept the disease under control, and he had a good 2012, winning once, finishing second twice and earning over $4.2 million.

There’s plenty of gas in the tank, and he’s obviously getting the ball out there in the general vicinity of the young guys. His enthusiasm and appetite for the game still seem to be there.

Wouldn’t it be a kick if that black Sunday in Chicago proved to a major boost in the latter stages of his career and Mickelson became a major force for the next eight years? After being overshadowed by Tiger Woods’ dominance for so long, don’t be surprised if Mickelson is right beside Woods as they chase the new dominant player in the game, Rory McIlroy.