PARIS -- The first time Jim Mackay went to the Ryder Cup is the last time the United States won it overseas. Phil Mickelson wasn't even playing in the event. Raymond Floyd, now 76, was one of the U.S. stars. The Americans flew to England on the Concorde.
You can pick all manner of milestones to mark just how long it has been since the U.S. won a Ryder Cup on European soil. For example, Tiger Woods had just won his third straight U.S. Junior Amateur title; Rory McIlroy was swinging a plastic club in his parents' living room at age 4, and Jon Rahm wasn't even born.
In 1993, Mackay, who would caddie for Mickelson for the better part of 25 years, ventured to England on his own dime for the Ryder Cup. His buddy, caddie Joe LaCava, was working for Fred Couples and invited Mackay, known as "Bones," to sleep on his floor.
"Jim figured Phil was going to be playing in a lot of Ryder Cups," said LaCava, who now caddies for Tiger Woods. "He was preparing."
Mickelson hasn't missed a U.S. team competition since, playing in every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup over the ensuing 25 years. But he's never won a Ryder Cup in Europe, a frustrating string of five consecutive losses that started in Spain in 1997, continued in England in 2002, Ireland in 2006, Wales in 2010 and Scotland in 2014.
Davis Love III, who was a rookie on that Ryder Cup team and scored the winning point in a 15-13 victory at The Belfry, has no answers as to why there has been such a drought.
"Raymond and Corey [Pavin] were some tough competitors on our team," said Love, who has twice captained the U.S. and is a vice captain to Jim Furyk this year. "It was a really strong team, Tom's [Watson] first time being captain. And we were all in awe of Tom Watson. It was bigger than life. The Concorde.
"The Ryder Cup was a little bit different then. We didn't know the other side that well. And especially for a guy like me to go up against someone like Seve [Ballesteros]. It's hard to imagine it has been that long [since the U.S. won in Europe]."
But how did it ever get this bad?
"I'm surprised we don't win every single Ryder Cup, to tell you the truth," said Mark Calcavecchia, who played in four but won only once. "But it's hard now. We had it going for a while, but I really think it's as simple as coming down to putts, who makes more. That's being confident and relaxed and not uptight. They [the Europeans] figure out a way to do that.
"All that B.S. about we weren't friends among our team is a bunch of crap. It's three days of golf every two years. Anything can happen. Anybody can win. All those years I was pretty sure we had the strongest team, but their team is really good and just tough to beat over there."
Why? There are theories galore, some of which are as simple as the strength of European golf. It might just be that in many of these instances, the Europeans were better, regardless of what any form sheets might say.
The 1997 European team featured the likes of Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie -- some of the best players in Ryder Cup history.
The 2002 team had Montgomerie, Langer, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Westwood and Darren Clarke.
The point is that Europe has been good, too.
Still, the U.S. has had its share of stars over that time, including Woods, Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Love and several others.
"It happens to be a razor-thin line between winning and losing Ryder Cups and when they are at home they slide themselves over that winning line," said Paul Azinger, who played on the last victorious U.S. road team at The Belfry in 1993. "They take advantage of the home field. They can somehow read into how they can neutralize our strengths as a 12-man team. Even back then, they narrowed fairways. And they go to courses they play all the time. I think that helps them.
"Now there's no excuse for America not to have won over there. I don't believe anyone is intimidated or anything like that. In some cases, they were better than us. But I never felt like being in Europe was any different. Either your game travels or it doesn't travel. The crowd cheering when you miss putts? It's something you embrace, maybe put a chip on your shoulder in some way. I didn't think it was any harder."
The home team is able to set up the course as it chooses, and the Americans took full advantage of that two years ago at Hazeltine, where generous fairways and fairly accessible pins meant a lot of birdies. The idea was to let the long-hitting Americans have some room, and get the crowd into it with good shots and scoring.
Of course, there was nothing to say the Europeans could not have taken advantage of those conditions, too.
And yet, this year Le Golf National is set up more to Europe's liking. There is considerable rough guarding narrowed fairways. As Jordan Spieth said, "You'll see a lot of high-fiving over pars." In theory, the course neutralizes the power advantage possessed by the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau.
"When the competition is that close, any little edge you can have is a big deal," said Steve Stricker, a U.S. vice-captain for the third time and, having been Presidents Cup captain last year, the expected next U.S. captain. "We're [at] a course again where they have an event [on the European Tour]. Those guys play there and know what to expect under tournament conditions.
"That's a little bit of a mistake on our side. What's wrong with playing [U.S.-hosted Ryder Cups] where we play all the time? How about taking them to the Phoenix Open and putting them in front of that crowd? It's a tough thing and always a challenge."
Therein lies one of the differences in the entities that run the Ryder Cup. The PGA of America does not run PGA Tour events and typically takes the Ryder Cup to places that have hosted majors; and in recent years, it has entered into partnerships with places to host both a Ryder Cup and a PGA Championship. Each of the past six U.S. Ryder Cup venues -- Hazeltine, Medinah, Valhalla, Oakland Hills, The Country Club and Oak Hill -- had previously hosted a major championship.
The European Tour manages the Ryder Cup when played here and it contractually stipulates that the host venue -- which is chosen via a bid process with exorbitant fees -- also stage an annual European Tour event. Gleneagles, Celtic Manor, the K Club, The Belfry and Valderrama all had annual stops. Le Golf National has been home to the French Open since 2002.
And all 12 members of the European team have played that tournament at least once, with Alex Noren winning it this year and Tommy Fleetwood in 2017. Sergio Garcia had his best result in recent months, a tie for eighth, in July.
Meanwhile, only six of the 12 Americans had played the course prior to this week -- Justin Thomas, who played in the French Open this year, Spieth, Mickelson, Finau, Bubba Watson and Koepka.
Furyk took a scouting mission this summer with Spieth, Mickelson and Finau.
"That's why we have these three [practice] days to prepare, and I'm still on the same plan that they are professionals, they prepare themselves on a weekly basis," Furyk said. "They are the best we have to offer in the United States. They are going to prepare their games, and I prided myself in the heart of my career of being one of the most prepared players on tour.
"I gave them as much information as I could, but I want them to have that freedom to prepare and do things their own way here."
Nobody would love to break that streak more than Mickelson, who has made it a source of motivation to get on the team and win in Europe for the first time.
"I am aware this is most likely the last one [I play] on European soil and my last opportunity to be part of a team that would be victorious here," said Mickelson, 48, who is playing in his 12th straight Ryder Cup. "And that would mean a lot to me personally. I think it would mean a lot to our team and to the United States Ryder Cup to have a victory on foreign soil. It's been 25 years.
"But it's a very difficult task. We've got a European team that is extremely talented with some great young players and great experience and great leadership. It's going to be a very difficult match. If we could come out on top, it would be something I would cherish the rest of my life."