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Phil Mickelson turns the tables on Ryder Cup teammates

Phil Mickelson will be playing in his 11th straight Ryder Cup starting Sept. 30 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

NORTON, Mass. -- The U.S. Ryder Cup team enjoyed a little bonding session at nearby Gillette Stadium on Wednesday night. The captain, Davis Love III, was in attendance, along with three of his assistant captains and all eight players who qualified by last weekend's deadline.

They ate dinner behind one of the end zones, heard an inspirational speech from Mike Eruzione of the 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning hockey team, and even engaged in a bit of lighthearted rookie hazing.

We'll get to all of that. But first, a story.

As part of this team bonding, there was a closest-to-the-pin competition on the New England Patriots' playing field. A hole was set up, with a tee exactly 78 yards away. The players didn't have their own clubs, but Love did, so each guy just used the captain's wedges.

Which was suitable, of course, except for the fact that one prominent team member happens to play left-handed.

Phil Mickelson didn't care. The natural right-hander simply turned around, hit the ball righty and won the contest, knocking one to 4 feet from the makeshift hole.

"Honestly, it's just not that hard to play golf right-handed," Mickelson said Thursday, smile on his face and tongue firmly in cheek. "I think the real challenge and enjoyment I get is from trying to play the game left-handed."

This was peak Phil, a world-class needler doing some world-class needling.

"Hitting a wedge is not that hard, righty or lefty," he continued, still smiling. "It's when I get to the longer stuff, like driver, I have a hard time righty. Of course, I have a hard time hitting driver lefty, too. But hitting wedges has always been pretty easy."

Laying it on extra thick, Mickelson insisted he didn't want to rub in this victory to his teammates.

"I wouldn't want them to feel bad. As a guy who knows how sensitive these players can be, I didn't want to overemphasize my victory last night. It didn't go unnoticed, but I didn't need to harp on it. I didn't need to make a big deal of it. They're just a little touchy about that kind of stuff."

As if to underscore that notion, Jordan Spieth said, "[We] all feel really bad, because he sure let us know about it."

Fun and games aside, the evening offered an opportunity for camaraderie among a team that has been accused -- rightly or wrongly -- of lacking in that characteristic during each of its three straight defeats.

Assistant captain Tom Lehman helped plan the evening through Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who also was present at the stadium. The team toured the entire facility, tried on some Super Bowl rings and tossed a few footballs. They even hazed Brooks Koepka, the only first-timer to qualify for the team, as he had to carry the bucket of golf balls for the competition.

"We got together, hung out, talked," Patrick Reed said. "Didn't really talk much about Ryder Cup, just kind of chatted up, had a good time, got to know the guys a little better. And I think that's going to be key for us is getting to know our guys a little better and also taking care of us because if we take care of each other, the guys next to us are going to be more comfortable, they're going to take care of themselves and at the end of the day, hopefully the cup stays here."

"It was just a good time to get everybody together and have some fun," assistant captain Steve Stricker said. "It was a good time to get everyone together."

If there was a serious twist to the proceedings, it came when Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal in the famous "Miracle on Ice" game, gave a speech about embracing the team concept.

"He was saying they had probably the seventh- to 10th-best players in 1980," Mickelson said. "But they played as a team better than everybody. That's a huge element to golf when you're dealing with 12 strong egos in an individual sport."

Those egos got a chance to unwind and relax away from the golf course Wednesday night, a chance to hang out away from the confines of a tournament.

These are the types of things that can help a team that might never hear the end of it if they don't win at Hazeltine next month.

For now, seven of the team's players only won't hear the end of it from the lefty who beat 'em righty, all part of the latest bonding session for this year's U.S. Ryder Cup team.