IT is the morning after the day before here on Long Island and I’m still thinking about Phil Mickelson.
By now – and certainly by the time you read these words – just about anyone on the planet with even the most tenuous interest in golf will know what the game’s greatest-ever left-hander got up to on the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills during the third round of the 118th US Open. Or should that be Shinnecock-up Hills?
While this column is not going to condone Mickelson’s actions – his blatant disregard for both the letter and spirit of the law was hugely disappointing, especially in one so influential – there is also a bigger picture here. Speaking as someone who long ago lost patience with the wide-ranging incompetence of the United States Golf Association (and their trans-Atlantic partners in buffoonery, the R&A), I have some sympathy for ‘Lefty’s’ point of view.
At least what I think – and hope – is his point of view.
Where Mickelson really lost me was not when he scooted nimbly across that fateful green in pursuit of his accelerating ball. It wasn’t when he smacked said ball back towards the cup either. It wasn’t when he sat in the scorer’s hut for almost 25 minutes after completing what turned out to be a round of 81. It wasn’t even when he allowed his playing partner, the ever-amiable Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, to go ahead and venture out into the large media scrum.
No. I could have lived – just about anyway – with all of that if ‘Phil the Thrill’ had gone on to tell the truth about why he did what he did. It would have been easy to do. Easier than dreaming up the spurious nonsense he did come up with. Claiming “no disrespect” to the game or the championship was so obviously disingenuous it was never going to be taken seriously by anyone whose brain had not been addled by copious amounts of alcohol (we’ll get to them in a bit).
What Phil should have said – and what is surely in his heart – was that he had simply had enough.
Enough of the stupidity that is a significant part, way too often, of America’s national “shampionship.”
Enough of the ludicrous green speeds. Enough of the ridiculous pin positions. Enough of compromising the integrity of the competition to the extent we saw at Shinnecock. Only a few hours after Daniel Berger and Tony Finau were able to shoot 66, the last seven groups were a collective 93-over par.
Enough of strange little men and women in blue blazers bastardising the greatest game of all in their warped and perverted attempts to create ever-more extreme playing conditions where even-par is the winning score. They are the same people charged with controlling advances in equipment technology – and so the distances leading professionals can hit the ball – over the past 20 years or so. It is a task in which they have failed spectacularly. And that seemingly terminal inadequacy is the root cause – one leads to the other – of what we saw at Shinnecock in 2018. And at the same venue in 2004, when one green was so silly three-foot putts finished up in bunkers. And at The Olympic Club in 1998, when the slope on the 18th green rendered the hole a farce. And at Southern Hills in 2001, when the 18th green was the only putting surface not cut before the final round. And at Bethpage Black in 2002, when players were unable to reach the 10th fairway. The list is lengthy and ignominious. And those were the things Phil – six times a runner-up in the US Open – should have cited in his post-round mea culpa. And, if he had found time on what was his 48th birthday, he might also have got stuck into the drunken and abusive antics of those spectators who deem it acceptable to abuse players not born nephews of Uncle Sam – in particular Englishman Ian Poulter. Just one more thing the USGA routinely ignores as they go about their privileged, blue-blooded, roman numeral-infested lives. “Out of touch” doesn’t begin to describe them and their attitude. So this was, more than anything, an opportunity missed. If making the same mistake over and over again really is the first symptom of madness, the USGA is certifiably insane. And Phil could have been the guy – albeit by throwing himself under the metaphorical bus – who began the process. By exposing the ineptitude of the self-appointed bufties, who do such a poor job running one of the game’s four most important events he could have done golfers the world over an enormous favour. Because the time for revolution is now.
WHAT PHIL SHOULD HAVE SAID – AND WHAT IS SURELY IN HIS HEART – WAS THAT HE HAD SIMPLY HAD ENOUGH.