Watching the Ryder Cup with his boys, Tim Mickelson knew the U.S. was in trouble almost before first putt.
Mickelson wasn't relying on his knowledge of his older brother Phil. He wasn't even relying on his own competitive golf experience, which includes an NCAA National Championship at Arizona State and a run through sports' most grueling selection process, the PGA Tour's Q-school.
No, this feeling came from somewhere else.
Watching the facial expressions and body language of the U.S. Ryder Cup players, Tim Mickelson saw the impending European domination, as much as he wished he could deny it.
"You could just tell that some of the American pairings just weren't comfortable out there playing with each other," Mickelson said.
"They weren't jelling, they weren't really working together, they weren't having any fun and I think that made everyone tense and took away from their games."
Call it a coach's instinct.
If any Mickelson is in touch with team golf it's younger brother Tim. He gave up the family vision of having two players on tour to get into college coaching and now Tim Mickelson is starting his second year as the University of San Diego's head man. Running his own program at age 27, this Mickelson is a little obsessed with team building.
"We do so many things to build that team atmosphere," said Toreros senior Mike Shelly, Mickelson's No. 1 player. "Golf is an individual sport, but there's no question we've become a much closer unit since Mickelson's been on the scene."
Mickelson got his players a team room on campus, a place where they can just hang out together. He frequently organizes four-ball tournaments, forcing his players to depend on each other to earn bragging rights.
He also has a way of turning road trips into team adventures. When San Diego played at a tournament in Denver, Mickelson tapped into his connections to get his entire team into the ultra-exclusive Castle Pines Country Club for a round on an off day.
"The Mickelson name has its perks," Shelly said, laughing. "Just being able to get us into Castle Pines is way, way neat. He knows so many people in golf and he's always looking to get us a great experience."
Anything to bring the team together. The boys Mickelson watched the Ryder Cup with were his USD players. He might as well still be in college for all the time he spends with the 18 to 22-year-olds on his squad.
"You've got a lot of programs coached by 60-year-old guys," Shelly said, "and it can hard for them to relate to the players. With Mickelson being so young, he keeps it fun."
Tim Mickelson didn't get into coaching to brood. In fact, he gave up any notions of joining his brother on the PGA Tour because golf was becoming a grind for him. Ever since Mickelson sat out a season under NCAA transfer rules, he felt coaching calling him.
During that sit-out transfer season at Oregon State, Mickelson's coach asked him for his opinion on the lineups, giving him a real glimpse into a college coach's world.
"It was something I really enjoyed," Mickelson said. "If I hadn't had to sit out that season I'm not sure if I would have realized that coaching was a real option for me. Thank goodness for those transfer rules."
Mickelson's unlikely coaching apprenticeship eventually led him to an assistant's job at San Diego State. Two years helping head coach Dale Walker get to back-to-back NCAA Regionals later and this time it was Mickelson's own players telling him he was ready to move on.
"I don't know if I knew as much as the players at San Diego State let me know," Mickelson said. "They told me how they enjoyed how I handled things, how I set up practice, what I did in recruiting."
Soon, Mickelson had his own program, the rival's program. Suddenly, he was Coach Mickelson.
Not that there weren't bogeys along the road. Can you imagine a Mickelson coaching a player to lay up, to take the - gasp! - safe play. Tim Mickelson couldn't either at first.
"As you might know our family is known for being a little aggressive in our shot selection," he said, laughing. "My natural instinct as player is to always go for it. But if I have a guy on my team who's a conservative player by nature, if that's his game, I have to respect that and understand that's how he's going to be at his best."
Mickelson's long pause rang loud and clear over the cell phone line. Some coaching truths are easier to embrace than others.
Still it's pretty safe to assume this coach never would have teamed up his gregarious, playful older brother and stone-cold solitary soldier Tiger Woods in the Ryder Cup. Even if Tim Mickelson is not about to admit that or much of anything else about pro golf's continuing controversy.
"I don't even want to comment on the Callaway thing," Tim said of the uproar over Phil breaking in his new Callaway clubs in the Ryder Cup. "All I'll say is that I felt like the media was a little overly negative. Not just on Phil. On Chris Riley. On Hal Sutton. On everyone. It's like everyone was so disappointed and so shocked we didn't get the job done, all this hostility came out. It wasn't fun to read (the stories)...
"But I guess that's what happens when you get your butt kicked."
Tim Mickelson chuckled, just a little. He has his own team to worry about, his own guys. Let Phil agonize in the spotlight if he wants. Little brother's found his own little fairway of team heaven. And it's the only place he wants to be.
Titleist 983E Driver, Titleist 970 3-Wood, 690CB Irons, 52-, 56- and 60-degree Vokey wedges,Scott Cameron Putter and Pro V balls.
September 29, 2004
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!