If Phil Mickelson continues to be paired with Tiger Woods on Friday afternoon in the alternate shot portion of the Ryder Cup program, he'll have to use the third different ball he has played in competition in the last three weeks.
Mickelson played virtually the entire season with the Titleist Pro V1 ball. Two weeks ago, he switched from Titleist to Callaway, in part to use that company's HX Tour ball, which he'll employ paired with Woods in the Friday morning best-ball competition.
But in alternate shot, partners play only one ball, and U.S. Captain Hal Sutton said Thursday he had no intention of asking Woods, the No. 1 player in the world for five years until passed two weeks ago by Vijay Singh, to switch away from his Nike ball. So he handed Mickelson two sleeves of Nike balls Thursday morning and told him to practice with them on Oakland Hills' deserted North course. Sutton wanted Mickelson to get some feel for distance and accuracy, while the rest of the team practiced on the South, the Ryder venue.
"I personally felt that it would be very difficult to tell a guy [who was No. 1 for so long], the leading player in the world, and Phil switches in one week and you're going to ask Tiger to switch balls," Sutton said. "I didn't think that was quite fair. I didn't want to put Tiger in that position, so I just said [to Mickelson], 'You need to learn how to hit this ball right here.' "
Their Time Will Come
Sutton said he told his players of Friday's pairings after a gala dinner in downtown Detroit on Wednesday night. He also told the four men not in action -- Fred Funk, Kenny Perry, Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas -- that they definitely would get out in the afternoon. He said he told the four non-starters who he thought they would play with in the afternoon, but left open the right to change his mind.
European captain Bernhard Langer will sit out four of his five Ryder rookies in the morning -- Paul Casey, David Howell, Thomas Levet and Ian Poulter -- and would only say he plans to use them at least once before Sunday's singles matches. He indicated Casey was his early choice to play with Luke Donald on Friday morning, but Paul McGinley earned his way into the starting lineup with his performance in the practice rounds.
A Man of Character
Funk, the former University of Maryland golf coach and Laurel native, has been most impressed with U.S. assistant coach Jackie Burke, the 81-year-old Texas native and a colorful character who won the 1956 Masters and PGA Championship and had a 7-1 record in the Ryder Cup.
"He's an in-your-face kind of guy and has a lot of anecdotes," Funk said Thursday. "He really needs a stenographer to walk around with him and get all of his quotes, because every sentence that's out of his mouth is quotable. Not always printable, but quotable."
Burke was asked earlier in the week about his role as an assistant to Sutton and said: "I've just got to keep Hal out of the china shop. I don't want him breakin' any china here, but it's like harnessing General Patton. He doesn't need any help. He just got me a lot of free clothes -- a tuxedo, a lot of jackets. I'm also writing all his material for him this week."