One of the abiding images of this year’s Ryder Cup – and there are plenty of them – was Phil Mickelson applauding the way Justin Rose came from behind to beat him.
Another came after the match was over and America had lost by a single point when Mickelson stepped in and answered a question directed at captain Davis Love.
“You need to hear something,” the United States record cap-holder said to the writer who had wondered if Love regretted benching unbeaten pair Mickelson and Keegan Bradley from the Saturday afternoon fourballs.
“I went to Davis (two holes before they completed a 7&6 demolition of Lee Westwood and Luke Donald) and said ’Listen – you’re seeing our best, you cannot put us in the afternoon because we emotionally and mentally are not prepared for it’.”
Just as he wanted to show his admiration of Rose on the course so he wanted to stop Love getting flak for probably his biggest decision – and perhaps biggest regret – of the whole week.
If ever Mickelson looked like an American captain-in-waiting that was it – and the same could certainly not be said of Tiger Woods as he sat quietly down the other end of the top table, aside from giving his explanation for conceding a putt to Francesco Molinari that meant his side not just failed to regain the trophy, but lost the match as well.
Not that Mickelson is ready to take over from Love for the 2014 contest at Gleneagles.
The left-hander will be 44 by then, but what the week at Chicago did was re-energise him and make him even more eager to be part of the side for a 10th time in Scotland.
Mickelson is in China this week for the HSBC Champions event, the last of this season’s world championships, but one which has not been able to attract either Woods or Rory McIlroy – despite the fact that they were in the country on Monday for a money-spinning head-to-head exhibition.
“I think the first two weeks following the Ryder Cup was a really tough low, one of the biggest lows of my career,” he said.
“It was a very emotional time because we really thought we were going to win. We expected to win, we were playing well and we thought that we were going to do it on Sunday.
“I think that the disappointment will last a lot longer than a month. I feel that over the next two years, we’ll still have the same disappointment from not winning this year’s Ryder Cup.
“But looking back, there was some good that came from it in that I had a great couple of days playing with Keegan as a partner.
“I have this new kind of excitement and energy that Keegan has and I’m excited about working on my own game and seeing what areas I can improve on from the Ryder Cup.”
With last year’s USPGA winner Bradley also in the 78-man field Mickelson has taken the chance to play with him again in practice.
Bradley was unable to make a successful defence of the PGA Grand Slam title in Bermuda last week – Padraig Harrington won that – but knows that victory this weekend would mean more.
“I think that it would help all of the Americans and especially myself,” said the 26-year-old, looking for back-to-back world championships following his triumph at the Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio in August.