Last week during the Third Round of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, Phil Mickelson surprised us all by chasing after a putt he hit on the 13th hole a little too hard that would have rolled off the green but….Mickelsen chased after the putt, caught up to the ball and then proceeded it to knock it while it was moving back towards the hole. Mickelson was well on his way of playing his way out of the tournament anyway but none of us have ever seen a professional of Mickelson’s stature hit a golf ball willingly while it was moving. After some more putting Mickelson recorded a 10 with a two stroke penalty for hitting a ball while it was in motion.
The situation quickly became a cause celebre and Fox Sports seized it quickly trying to sensationalize something that was simply a rules violation. Clearly Mickelsen violated Rule 1-2 which essentially (without disclosing the Rules of Golf verbatim) specifies a two shot penalty for a player who takes an action to influence the ball in play deliberately. Tournament officials had the option of disqualifying Mickelson because it was obviously no accident that he did this deliberately. In an initial interview with Curtis Strange, Mickelsen stated that he was taking advantage of the rule and knew he would be penalized two strokes and that this action was preferable than playing the hole out correctly. His action and subsequent initial interview with Strange expressed defensive behavior and taking advantage of the rules of golf. Former head of the USGA, David Fay, was very frank, “I would have disqualified him.” Mickelsen, upon reflection, apologized for his actions a few days after the tournament. Unfortunately the apology will not erase the stain on his reputation as he missed the “moment of truth.” Most people will forget Phil’s apology as they continue to watch You Tube replays of the putt rolling down the 13th green and Phil chasing it and attempting to hole the putt while the ball is in motion.
The reaction from my readers was nearly unanimous. There was one vote that looked at the incident as strict compliance and would not discipline Mickelsen. The remainder of the voters were of two camps:
- Mickelsen should have disqualifed himself
- Tournament officials should have disqualified him.
The reactions were to the question were swift, some emotional and all showed a healthy knowledge and respect for the Rules of Golf. If Mickelsen had disqualified himself, the matter would have been over and done with. Tournament officials were not going to disqualify as the USGA didn’t need any more controversy after the course setup for the 3rd round, it was also Phil’s birthday and Phil is very popular in the New York area. Fortunately, the tournament itself was unaffected as Phil was long done before this action.
The vapor trail from this incident is an indelible stain on Phil Mickelsen’s reputation as his ability to win a US Open is beginning to become an improbable dream.