Commentary

Phil Mickelson reigns for Team USA

Updated: October 4, 2013, 9:43 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

DUBLIN, Ohio -- There are far greater achievements, starting with the three green jackets, a Claret Jug and a Wanamaker Trophy. Then there are the 42 PGA Tour victories, the $60 million-plus in official earnings, the spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesPhil Mickelson needed a captain's pick to make his first Presidents Cup team ... in 1994. Since then, he's qualified automatically for every single Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team for the United States.

The accomplishments are endless for Phil Mickelson, putting him on a tidy list of history's best golfers, certainly among the tops of his generation, with only Tiger Woods ahead in the discussion during their time as pros.

So where does playing in every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup dating to 1994 rank?

For the 19th straight year, Mickelson, 43, is competing for the United States in one of its annual team competitions, the only player to compete in all 10 Presidents Cups.

Mickelson improved his Presidents Cup record to 19-15-10 on Friday in the weather-delayed second session along with partner Keegan Bradley, posting a 4 and 3 victory against the International team of Jason Day and Graham DeLaet in foursomes. The U.S. win pushed Team USA to a 4½ to 3½ lead with four four-ball matches still to be completed Saturday morning.

The duo lost just three holes -- two coming after Mickelson and Bradley had forged a 6-up lead. They produced six birdies and an eagle through 15 holes -- which is pretty stout in the alternate shot format.

"Today we were on," Mickelson said. "We played some of our best golf together. We were down [early in the match], but on [No.] 5 we turned it around. Shot 30 on the front. ... To play these team events with Keegan, he just brings out the best in me. It's fun."

Back in that first Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia, Mickelson's hair was slicked back, his collar up, and he had just four PGA Tour victories to his name. But Hale Irwin made him a captain's pick and Mickelson had Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin as his partners. Lefty halved his singles match against South Africa's Fulton Allem, going 2-1-2 for the week.

It was the only time Mickelson has been a captain's pick, having made every subsequent team on his own through qualifying.

"On our bags we have a picture of the Presidents Cup for every one they have played on and I'm looking at Phil's bag and I counted 10," said Bradley, who is playing in his first Presidents Cup. "I guess I just didn't realize. I go, 'Is this your 10th Presidents Cup?'

"He kind of laughed. That's an unbelievable accomplishment. That's 20 [nearly] straight years, and he's playing on every Ryder Cup team.

"That just shows that he's been one of the most consistent players ever in this game, and I know how much these tournaments mean to him. So for him to play on every one is a pretty amazing accomplishment."

And to think, when the Presidents Cup concept came into being, there was considerable concern that American players would not want to take part annually in these team competitions. The top players had the Ryder Cup, and then in the off years, were expected to compete in a different version against a team from the rest of the world not including Europe.

Plenty of skepticism ensued, and yet nobody skips. Woods played his first Ryder Cup in 1997, his first Presidents Cup in 1998 and has been on every U.S. team since, missing the 2008 Ryder Cup due to knee surgery.

"We've done this a long time," Woods said. "You always want to be a part of these teams. For the Americans, we do it each and every year. Still being with the guys and getting together with the guys and playing as a team and playing for your country and for one another, it's a lot of fun.

"We never want to miss these teams. They are fun. Sometimes we've got to travel a little bit and then play, and we've been to Australia, South Africa. I think the next one's in Korea [in 2015]. So we've traveled a bit, but still if you get a good group of guys, a lot of needling and a lot of good times."

Nobody enjoys that more than Mickelson, who has also taken to nurturing younger players and trying to prepare them for the pressures of the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. Among the players he has taken under his wing in that regard are Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Bradley, who has been his partner now in five team matches, three at last year's Ryder Cup.

They went 3-0 at Medinah and helped the U.S. to a big lead before both lost their Sunday singles matches as the Americans fell to Europe. If there is a sore spot for Mickelson, it is his 14-18-4 overall record in the Ryder Cup. Then again, most American players with any longevity have a losing record in that event; Mickelson has played on just two winning U.S. teams.

But he's made every one of them on his own.

"It's pretty phenomenal when you think about it," said Brandt Snedeker, who is playing in his first Presidents Cup after one Ryder Cup. "You think about his longevity and how long he's been relevant, almost a rock star in this game and to see him at his age, 43 now, won a major this year, still on top of his game after all these years. He's a great guy to have in the team room, a great guy to lean on with all the experience he has in these things."

Mickelson is not one to make a big deal out of his longevity, more apt to take it all in when he is done playing.

"As I look back on my career, without really thinking about it while I play, I think that will be one of the better records that I am most proud of," he said. "It just shows the level of consistency year in and year out."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.