JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Watching the celebration and seeing the festive aftermath of the Presidents Cup on Sunday evening, you could not help but think back to almost exactly three years ago when the mood was entirely different. The setting after the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland was similar, save for the blustery conditions outside, and the overall feeling of disappointment and despair inside.
U.S. golfers stretched across a dais to answer questions, a distinct chill in the air as Phil Mickelson shockingly took down Tom Watson, the legendary golfer and U.S. captain, who became the symbol of what was wrong with the U.S. Ryder Cup efforts.
Mickelson was tired of the U.S. plight. And while the Americans were consistently winning the Presidents Cup, they were just as often losing the Ryder Cup, sometimes in excruciating fashion.
A much-ridiculed task force was formed, now converted to a committee that Mickelson now serves on along with Tiger Woods. And while put together in an effort to change the fortunes of the Ryder Cup, there was also a new cooperation with the Presidents Cup; it was an attempt to find some continuity between the two competitions that sees American players compete every year.
Look at the United States, and Mickelson, now.
After clinching a resounding 19-11 victory at Liberty National on Sunday, the U.S. has now won three straight Presidents and Ryder Cup competitions dating to the 2015 Presidents event, the first time the Americans have done so since 2007-09.
“We have a dynamic here that is different than I’ve seen, and that is, these young guys are not only great players, fiercely competitive, but they have a quality that’s taken me decades to acquire, and that is that they are genuinely happy for each other’s success,” Mickelson said. “That type of support amongst each other, even though they are competing against each other, brings a really special energy and dynamic to this team.”
Mickelson, now 47, defeated Adam Hadwin 2-and-1 in his singles match Sunday, bringing his record this week to 3-0-1. Interestingly, he is now 8-1-3 in Cup competitions since that night at Gleneagles.
None of this is to say that the U.S. is going to win the Ryder Cup or even the next Presidents Cup. Or that a task force is the reason it won the last one.
But there is clearly a better vibe when it comes to the U.S. team’s fortunes in the team competitions. With Mickelson’s help, there has been an emphasis on camaraderie, not to mention playing those Tuesday money games among potential partners. Not only do they help with team bonding, but Mickelson makes sure the trash talk is at a premium, and the stakes are high enough to cause jumbled nerves.
Perhaps more important is the consistency from one year to the next. On the original task force, Mickelson served along with Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Davis Love III, who captained the U.S. team at Hazeltine last year. It is no coincidence they have been heavily involved in each of the three Cup teams starting in 2015, as well as U.S. Presidents Cup captain Steve Stricker, who assisted each of the previous two years.
Love has been an assistant for each of the past two Presidents Cups — might he be the U.S. captain in 2019 in Australia? — while Woods has also been a big presence behind the scenes.
When Furyk captains the U.S. team next year, you can be sure that Stricker, Woods and Love will be part of it — and perhaps someone else who could be groomed to be the 2019 Presidents Cup captain, if not Love.
Stricker is the odds-on favorite to be named the 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, marking two milestones. He would be the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain who did not win a major championship, and who captained a Presidents Cup team before a Ryder roster.
“They are a tough team,” International captain Nick Price said. “There’s no weaknesses in any of their pairings. They just get things done when they need to, and that’s the difference.”
And that might be the most positive aspect going forward for the Americans. They have two solidly established teams in Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler/Justin Thomas; they also have 33-year-old Dustin Johnson, who went 4-0-1 this past week and the only player in this group in his 30s. Add fiery newcomer Daniel Berger and U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, along with up-and-coming player Patrick Cantlay, or maybe Xander Schauffele or Tony Finau, and the U.S. has the makings of a solid team for the next 10 years.
“This team is fantastic,” Woods said. “They already have played junior golf, college golf, and obviously the early part of their pro careers together. It was very simple for us to put the teams together. They bonded really well and, on top of that, they really played their butts off this week.”
And then there is Mickelson. He has no plans to step aside as a player and settle into some sort of assistant captain role until he undoubtedly gets his shot as a captain.
Mickelson was a captain’s pick from Stricker and delivered, again serving as mentor and motivator to players half his age. Lefty made it clear he wants to make the 2018 Ryder Cup team.
“Next year, going to Paris and being part of the Ryder Cup team … it’s been 25 years  since we won a Ryder Cup over there,” Mickelson said. “That would be a real big goal of mine. I’ve got a lot to work hard on, [a lot to] look forward to, and a lot of goals to achieve to make that team and be part of it.
“But I think that would be really a career moment for me if we could go over there and keep the Ryder Cup.”
Who is going to bet against him? Or the Americans?