The 2018 US Open was memorable for a number of reasons. Brooks Koepka defended his title as US Open champ (making 2 of his 3 total PGA tour victories US Open wins). Shinnecock Hills brought the best golfers in the world to their knees, and many (myself included) think that the course was configured to an unnecessarily difficult degree. And how about Tommy Fleetwood coming out of nowhere with a 63 on Sunday?
But for all this, nothing might be more talked about for years to come than Phil Mickelson’s intentional rule violation on the 13th hole on Saturday.
Mickelson first missed an 18-foot bogey putt on 13. His putt from the center of the green skimmed the right edge of the cup with way to much pace. I’m sure Mickelson, like the rest of us, knew that the ball was destined to catch the front slope of the green, and once it did, would just keeping rolling for days. What happened next looked like a deleted scene from Happy Gilmore.
Mickelson, the moment the ball reached the crest of the slope, jogged over to his ball (which was still very much in motion). From there, with no setup, no formal addressing of the ball, he whacks another putt back towards the hole before the ball has the chance to roll any further. This shot missed wide as well, but not by nearly as much, and Mickelson made the next putt for a total of 8.
Joe Buck was close to speechless on the broadcast. And rightfully so. One of the faces of the game of golf, in one of the biggest tournaments the game has to offer, deliberately struck a moving ball before it had the chance to rest. It just doesn’t happen (not since John Daly at least). Mickelson, as per the rules, was assessed a two-stroke penalty, bringing his total for that hole to a 10.
Mickelson later told reporters that his antics weren’t meant to disrespect anyone. He simply figured the best course of action in that moment would be to take the two-stroke penalty and “simply get on to the next hole”.
Listen, I have never had a problem with Phil Mickelson. But that right there is a load of crap. I know the course was a bear. I know they were basically putting on concrete. But I can’t for one second think that him putting a moving ball in a major championship was a “savvy veteran move”. He acts like this was a choice that any reasonable golfer would have made in that situation. See anyone try this maneuver last weekend? This season? This decade?
Mickelson knew that his home run of a putt was destined to roll 30 yards down that hill. So instead of jeopardizing his score for the hole any further, he figured a two-stroke penalty on top of another two putts would stop the bleeding. To me, especially on this stage, that was worthy of a disqualification.
And the USGA could have done it. Rule 14-5 states that a player must not make a stroke at the ball while it is moving. A caveat to this rule (Rule 1-2) applies when a player knowingly stops or deflects a previous shot to gain an advantage. This rule lays the groundwork for a DQ. Phil Mickelson broke the former rule by means of the latter, admitted to it after the round, and yet the USGA only levied the two-stroke penalty. AND THIS is what frustrates me.
The USGA had every reason to DQ Mickelson. Yet they balked on it. Whether it’s the stature of Mickelson among the professional ranks, his status as a fan favorite and a big name, or the simple shock of what actually happened, Mickelson got to continue playing.
Now, this act by Mickelson is not egregious by any means. It shouldn’t tarnish his legacy. Don’t get me wrong. I equate this to a pitcher throwing at a batter in baseball, or an intentional handball by a defender in soccer. Game-sullying? No. Sportsmanship-defiling? No. Just a black-and-white choice made by a frustrated player in the heat of the moment. And like in baseball and soccer, players who make these decisions get tossed from the game, AND THE GAME MOVES ON. Simple as that. The USGA could have said “You know what Phil, bad move bud. You’re out of this tournament. But hey, we will see you at the next one.” What would have been so bad about that? Players break the rules, players get disciplined, and then we move on.
Instead, we have a contingent of unhappy fans (and some players) wondering why there was no discipline to be had. There are also some people out there who say “who cares? That was funny as hell.” And I can’t argue with that, it was like watching your buddy hack away on your local course with Phil out there running around. But I think in the end this sets a bad precedent for tournaments moving forward, and something needs to be done. The USGA needs to set in place a more explicit rule here, and enforce it accordingly the next time someone doesn’t want to see how much their putt is going to miss by. Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear it.
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