By Tony Jimenez
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – Davis Love III is the non-playing skipper charged with the task of ending Europe’s domination of the Ryder Cup but there seems little doubt that Phil Mickelson is the unofficial playing captain.
The five-times major winner has been a pivotal member of the 11-strong Task Force set up two years ago to help the United States compete better in the biennial event and he continues to play an inspirational role in the locker room this week.
“Phil is, I think, the backbone of the team,” Love told reporters at Hazeltine National on Wednesday. “When he gets up to speak he obviously has a purpose when he says something.
“He’s been a team leader, gosh, I’d say in the last six or eight teams I’ve been around, he’s been the leader on the golf course or in the locker room or in the team room.”
Brandt Snedeker, making his second U.S. Ryder Cup appearance this week as his side attempt to defeat Europe for the first time since 2008, explained how much of an influence the 46-year-old Mickelson had been in the countdown to the event.
“Phil is not just a leader this week, he’s a leader all year round,” said Snedeker. “He takes time out of his schedule and his days to talk.
“I played a practice round with Phil a month ago, he grabbed me and said, ‘here is why we are going to need you in Minnesota and this is why we want you on the team, this is why we think you’re a great partner’.”
Snedeker said it was rare for American players to be treated that way.
“There are not a lot of people telling you you’re great when things aren’t going great. There’s a lot of people telling you how bad you are but not how great you are and we need that,” he added.
“We have our wives that tell us that all the time but we get tired of hearing it. It’s great to have a guy like Phil pull you aside … you can’t put a price on that.
“That’s leadership to me. That’s Phil being Phil and that’s why we love having Phil in the team room,” said the 35-year-old Snedeker.
Mickelson is featuring in his 11th successive Ryder Cup this week, having made his debut in 1995.
Tiger Woods, Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson are operating as Love’s non-playing deputies this week and Snedeker described Mickelson as “our sixth vice-captain”.
“He’s in there 100 percent,” he said. “That’s infectious in the team room when you have that many guys caring about one common goal and they are the best players of our generation.
“You’d better believe it’s going to motivate the rest of us to make sure we care as much and get our butts in gear. Let’s get going, we’re tired of losing this thing.”
(Editing by Andrew Both)