Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods go way back as one of the most beloved and fiery golf rivalries of all time. But as veterans of the game, they’ve come to respect and like each other both as competitors and teammates. And according to Mickelson, that was no more apparent than at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
Speaking to Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck for a GOLF.com podcast, Mickelson practically gushed about Woods’ transformation off the course, especially in the Ryder Cup team room.
“He’s really fun to be around now,” Mickelson said. “He’s very thoughtful and detail oriented, but more than that, he’s been very approachable and helpful with a lot of the guys.
“I think for a number of years, he felt – and I don’t know this – but I think he felt as if he were to open up in these team events, he would be breaking down that aura that he’s built and the intimidation he’s built and could affect his career in some of these tournaments by that one week, and so has always been kind of held back or reluctant.”
According to Mickelson, Woods’ ideas during the Ryder Cup were instrumental in the game plan that helped deliver the Cup to the Americans after eight years of European domination. One example Mickelson mentioned was moving the tees back on par-5s when shorter hitters were playing, so they could take advantage with their strong wedge play. And, for the bigger hitters, moving the tees up so they could attack the green in two.
“I don’t know what it is but the last three or four years he’s been much more approachable and engaging with the guys and really fun to be around,” Mickelson said. “Guys grew up, on the team, idolizing him and watching him, and to have him support you and talk to you and be with you has been really fulfilling.”
It’s not just the personable Woods that Mickelson admires. Asked whether or not Mickelson thinks Woods will win again, he didn’t hesitate.
“Oh yeah,” Mickelson said. “He’s too good not to, unless physically something holds him back. He’d just out-ball-strike guys and he would win tournaments that way even not putting that great. He would win tournaments out putting everybody even if he didn’t strike it that great, because he was such a great putter and (had a) great short game. But when he did them both together, he just spanked everybody and won by 15 like the 2000 US Open.
“He doesn’t have to be the best he’s ever been at to win tournaments because his talent level is so high and I think it’s much easier to do it again than it is to do it for the first time.”