Phil Mickelson took cash over country. Lefty rolled the dice. It may prove the worst gamble of his risk-taking career.
Of course, with about $80 million of Callaway Golf's money under his pillow, maybe Phil will sleep like a baby.
When the Ryder Cup resumes Saturday morning, Mickelson, perhaps the best golfer in the world, will be on the bench for the American team, kicked out of the lineup in shame by disgusted captain Hal Sutton.
At sundown, after the worst day in the history of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Sutton was asked if Mickelson's switch in equipment from Titleist to Callaway just two weeks ago might have contributed to the two stunning defeats that Mickelson and Tiger Woods suffered at the hands of two European pairings. Sutton mulled the idea.
What thoughts came back to him? In the second match, playing alternate shot, Mickelson drove erratically on the sixth, eighth, 12th and 14th holes, and then, on the 18th tee of a tied match, he hit the ball 60 yards off line to the left and against a fence, effectively losing the most crucial match of the day with one horrible stroke.
"We'll all be left scratching our heads on that" Sutton said, placing blame, and surely scapegoat horns as well on the man who won the Masters, then finished second at the U.S. Open and third at the British Open. "We'll all want answers to that. But the most important person that's going to have to wonder about that is going to be Phil Mickelson.
"It's not going to cause us any grief in the morning because he's going to be cheering instead of playing."
While Mickelson is doing penance, maybe he can go to the range here at Oakland Hills and practice with his new Callaway driver and his new Callaway 3-wood while he pounds buckets of his new Callaway balls. Then, if Sutton lets him play in the afternoon, maybe Phil can replace the little U.S. flag on the back of his shirt with a Callaway logo.
Asked if he would ever have changed clubs -- a huge shift for almost any player -- a week before a Ryder Cup, Sutton said, "I didn't do that. And it will never be debated whether Hal Sutton could have done that."
But would you have done it? "No, I wouldn't have done it. But I'm not Phil Mickelson, and I'm not in his shoes."
Well, they're expensive shoes, you can bet on that.
"You know what? Phil is capable of playing good golf with anything," Sutton said. Lest anyone think that this is just an intramural squabble between endorsers of rival equipment, let it be noted that Sutton represents Callaway.
How could Mickelson do such a thing? Easy. For the same reason that Sutton broke every Ryder Cup rule of match-making common sense and unnecessarily paired his two top players together, risking exactly the sort of needless disaster that befell Mickelson and Woods on Friday. To both of them, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Unless the United States pulls out this Ryder Cup, Sutton may beat his Shrek-like skull on many a wall asking, "Why? Why? Hell, Phil and Tiger don't even like each other."
As for the enormously popular Mickelson, he is flirting with the very fan adoration that so often fuels him. On a hot streak all season, he figured he was playing so spectacularly that he could have it both ways. He could go for the endorsement payday of a lifetime. Granted, most players are terrified by such a basic change in their high-tech tools. Going for the big bucks -- a transition that usually takes months to ingrain, if it works at all -- has derailed plenty of hot careers.
But Mickelson made the change just one week before he would be playing with his peers and for his country in the most pressure-filled event in golf and perhaps in sports. In the Ryder Cup, superstars collapse down the stretch. Any edge, anything that provides the slightest comfort level, is treasured.
"We have to support Phil right now," one of Mickelson's teammates said to me. "But you certainly don't."
By the way, don't ask what Mickelson and Woods thought about their day of misadventures. They couldn't be bothered to speak with TV or the print media.
The U.S. team has done a burn ever since it realized that Mickelson wasn't waiting until after the season to do his switch, like most players. Instead, Callaway was going to get all that marvelous "exposure" during the Ryder Cup.
So how's that exposure going so far? Here's a new slogan: "Callaway, we make the equipment that even Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods can't overcome."
By day's end, Sutton epitomized the stunned atmosphere that hung over the whole golf world. If Woods and Mickelson had won their matches as expected, this Cup would be close. Instead, a rout is possible.
"Who could have seen that coming? . . . You could have owned me today if you had wanted to take that bet because I bet it all. I bet the ranch," Sutton said. "How much would you have bet when they were 3-up in the afternoon match? We'd all have been broke. Tiger and Phil would have bet on it, too."
It sometimes seems the Ryder Cup was reinvented so that American professional golf could find ever newer and more original ways to humiliate its rich, pampered self. The Europeans are the event's darlings, even to many American fans, because they usually seem more "American" than the U.S. team. Even when the U.S. team comes from behind to capture a Cup it should have dominated, they break so many rules of etiquette that they are still apologizing five years later. This week looks like it may just extend the trend.
The sulking demeanor of Woods and Mickelson merely underlined the U.S. team's problems.
"They just were not matching up well. They saw when you pair two stars, there is usually good karma or bad karma," Sutton said. "They went south in the middle of that second round, and it was pretty evident from the expressions on their faces."
Sutton's dubious decision to pair the two, for which he has yet to accept any blame, will be an interesting subplot. For now, Sutton seems content to excuse his own choices and instead beat on his team with a two-by-four.
"Oh, yeah. We're going to have a team meeting tonight," Sutton said. "I may have to put [my] cowboy hat back on. . . . When I get really mad at myself, I don't want somebody patting me on the back and loving on me. I can assure you, I'm not gonna' be loving on them."