PARAMUS, N.J. -- Some idle banter the other day between Phil Mickelson and Pat Perez centered on the length of each golfer's hair. Perez, who has typically gone with a lengthy mane, was trying to convince Mickelson to do the same.
"Don't cut it until after the Ryder Cup," he chided, and Phil seemed taken with the idea that might have unlocked the secret.
If longer hair means strength and success, then Mickelson might be up for trying it as he awaits word on a spot in next month's Ryder Cup, quite possibly the last one of Lefty's playing career and one that will be staged in Europe, where he has never been on a winning team.
For all the talk about a United States resurgence in a competition that has given the Americans fits over the past couple of decades, it remains a painful fact that the U.S. has failed to bring the Cup home from Europe since 1993. That is the last Ryder Cup Mickelson missed -- he was in his second year as a pro. Tiger Woods was a year away from winning the first of three straight U.S. Amateurs. Jordan Spieth was an infant.
"Sure, it's motivation," Mickelson said this week at Ridgewood Country Club, where he played into contention Friday at the Northern Trust. "It would be special if we were able to do it. It's a huge motivator. It would be very meaningful for me to be part of a winning team in Europe. Realistically, this is probably my last chance."
Mickelson, 48, is not yet on the 12-man team that will head to Paris at the end of next month. He is waiting to see if he earns one of four captain's picks (three will be announced Sept. 4, and the final on Sept. 10); he failed to earn one of the eight automatic qualifying spots after missing the cut at the PGA Championship. He has not performed well over the summer, with just a single top-10 since his March victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
But Mickelson is more likely to shave his head than to be left off this Ryder Cup team. Captain Jim Furyk, Mickelson and Woods must have some epic giggle fests behind closed doors as they seek ways to feign that there is still some decision to be made about whether Tiger and Phil will be among the captain's picks.
And yet there was Mickelson playing along on Thursday when asked about being in this position for the first time.
"I'm going to play really well these next two weeks and I'm going to make it an easy decision," Mickelson said.
Since making his first Ryder Cup team in 1995, Mickelson has never needed a pick. He has made every team on points, a remarkable and underrated achievement that speaks to his longevity and high level of play over two decades. The steak of 11 straight U.S. Ryder Cup teams made (he also has been on 12 consecutive U.S. Presidents Cup teams, needing a captain's pick three times) is clearly a source of pride in a career that is more known for Mickelson's 43 PGA Tour titles, including five major championships.
"I might have put a little extra pressure on myself to do that," he said of finishing 10th in the points race. "I would have loved to have made the top eight. If it were the same way when I started in '95, when we had 10 guys make it then and two picks, I would have made it.
"But I think those two [extra] picks are critical to giving the captain the chance to round out the team he feels is best, and to get the best players to partner with guys on the team to have the best continuity, as well as the best games for that particular course."
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Mickelson is engaged in the process, one he put in motion four years ago when he called out Tom Watson in his second stint as captain after a disappointing loss at Gleneagles. It was a tense, uneasy scene that night in Scotland and, to this day, there are some who won't forgive Mickelson for his actions, feeling it was bad form to take down the legendary Watson in that manner.
But while Mickelson is careful in navigating that uneasy ground, he believes what he did back then was part of the greater good. He and Woods now serve on a Ryder Cup committee along with current captain Furyk. Mickelson has been heavily involved behind the scenes at each of the past two Presidents Cups and the Ryder Cup, as has Woods.
"We know exactly what the issue has been," Mickelson said. "Now that we as a group -- Tiger, myself, Furyk and [Steve] Stricker -- we've been part of the winning side on the Presidents Cup, we've been on the losing side on the Ryder Cup. We know exactly what the difference is, and now that we have involvement, we're going to fix it.
"It doesn't mean we're going to win. It means we're going to put ourselves in a position to succeed more often than not. More often than not when we're put in a position to succeed, we have; and when we're put in a position to fail, we do. I think we're going to be put in a position to succeed and there is a good chance that we will."
Mickelson was on a roll but stopped himself. He never intended to make it about Watson four years ago in Scotland, or Hal Sutton two years ago at Hazeltine when he bizarrely took the 2004 captain to task for his pairing of Mickelson and Woods 12 years earlier. He regrets how some of that came off.
But he's bullish on what is in place now, and how it might impact U.S. teams for years to come.
And did we mention Mickelson would really like to be part of a team that wins in Europe?
Much is understandably made of Mickelson's Ryder Cup record. He is just 18-20-7, including 5-5-1 in singles. His singles loss against Justin Rose in 2012 at Medinah was particularly brutal, as Mickelson thought he had closed out the match on the 16th hole, only to see Rose birdie the 17th and 18th to beat him 1-up. The U.S. lost by a point.
But Mickelson went 2-1 at Gleneagles when Watson sat him out for an entire day on Saturday. He was 3-0-1 at Hazeltine with a stirring singles half against Sergio Garcia in which Mickelson made 10 birdies. In his past three Ryder Cups, Mickelson is 7-3-1. He also was 3-0-1 at last year's Presidents Cup.
Count on Phil being in France.
And perhaps with much longer hair.
Who wears it better? When I cut my hair, I lost my powers. My hair is back and so is my game🤣 pic.twitter.com/O2etaXBCb4— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) August 24, 2018