Phil Mickelson still holds hope for Presidents Cup spot

Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Mickelson still holds hope for Presidents Cup spot

PGA Tour

Phil Mickelson still holds hope for Presidents Cup spot

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – For Steve Stricker, it’s not as if he is sounding a distress signal from the middle of the ocean, but more of a subtle request as he looks to finalize his 2017 Presidents Cup team.

Armed with two wild-card picks, he will need to finalize his squad in a little more than a week, Stricker’s message to candidates outside the top 10 in points is simple: Could I get a little more help from you boys?

Speaking Thursday from the Northern Trust after an opening 4-over 74 at Glen Oaks Club, Stricker said it’s likely that the player finishing 11th in points will be a safe bet to make the team, depending on who moves in and who falls out. Currently that’s Kevin Chappell, who won the Valero Texas Open earlier this season. But that last pick is wide open. Stricker would love to see Phil Mickelson play well and make his 12th Presidents Cup side – he’s never missed one – but even with a birdie-birdie finish Mickelson could do no better than a 72 on a tough track Thursday morning.

“He’s been part of so many teams, and he’s shown that even when he was 30th in the points (in 2015), he can come and contribute in a big way,” Stricker said of Mickelson, who went 3-0-1 as a captain’s pick for Jay Haas two years ago. “No one else is really standing out in my mind right now. (Kevin) Chappell has played well, he’s No. 11, but 12 on through 20, no one has really done anything. I’m looking for someone to step up here and play some good golf these next two weeks. If nobody does, then it will be a tough pick for one spot.”

Mickelson, for his part, said he’s been playing better than he’s been scoring of late, but he knows that it’s up to him to start performing better. Thursday he made two double bogeys and struggled at times with the putter. But he did hit 11 fairways, and seemed encouraged that if it’s putting holding him back, that’s the easiest part of his game to fix.

“I’m starting to feel a lot more relaxed. I don’t feel like I’m fighting it out there anymore,” he said. “It’s starting to come around.”

But is it coming around fast enough to impress the captain? Stricker knows better than most the value of having a veteran such as Mickelson to lead in the team room, and he could carry a team into the Sept. 28-Oct. 1 matches with four or five rookies.

Stricker joked that when he told Mickelson a few weeks ago at Bridgestone that he needed to pick up his play, “it doesn’t sound right coming from a guy like me.” He even apologized for saying it. But the bottom line is that Mickelson hasn’t won this season (or since 2013) and his play of late has had too many mental lapses.

“Really,” Stricker said, “help me out. Show me something so it can be an easy pick. And every time I see him, he says, ‘I’m making it on my own.’ He’s got that positive attitude and he’s just good, he really is. But it would be nice to have him playing better.”

Stricker said he’ll involve his entire team and four assistant captains in the process of naming two captain’s picks, not because he wants to deflect the decision, but because he wants to know what his players want. Most have made it known they want Mickelson to be on the team at Liberty National.

Mickelson currently is 18th in points, and of those between him and No. 10, only two (Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker, who is injured) have Presidents Cup experience. For his part, Mickelson has been around long enough to know the mantra to fix his woes: Play better.

“You’ve got to bring something to the team and add something,” Mickelson said. “If there are other players that bring more to the table and are playing better, then they need to be on it. Because you can also look at it and say, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a number of them, so it would be great for others to do that, too.

“But I’m not quite ready to pass that on yet. I want to be on the team.”

He knows what he needs to do.

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