| Bunker Men­tal­ity

Phil Mick­el­son is well-known on and off the course as some­thing of a mav­er­ick.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Mike Wil­son

Fol­low­ing two clear and well-doc­u­mented rules vi­o­la­tions, five-time Ma­jor cham­pion Phil Mick­el­son is well-known on and off the course as some­thing of a mav­er­ick. But as Mike Wil­son writes, the left-han­der must un­der­stand that the game of golf is big­ger than any one in­di­vid­ual as he chases his 50th pro­fes­sional ti­tle.

Philip Al­fred Mick­el­son, aka ‘Lefty,’ is with­out ques­tion, not only one of the most tal­ented, suc­cess­ful and in­trigu­ing pro­fes­sional golfers of his gen­er­a­tion - and ar­guably of all time. 49 wins world­wide in­clud­ing five Ma­jors, hav­ing spent al­most 750 weeks in the top 10 of the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ing (OWGR). But, per­versely, with­out once reach­ing the cov­eted #1 slot on the world rank­ings.

A hat-trick of Green Jack­ets plus the 2005 U.S. PGA Cham­pi­onship and, most re­cently, the 2013 Open Cham­pi­onship, not to men­tion a trio of World Golf Cham­pi­onship events. The lat­est only this year at the WGC Mex­ico, on­course earn­ings fast ap­proach­ing US$100m, Phil Mick­el­son’s roll of hon­our would set most pro­fes­sional sports­men in gen­eral and golfers in par­tic­u­lar apart. As an icon of his sport, a colos­sus strad­dling more than a quar­ter- of-a-cen­tury in the upper ech­e­lons of one of the world’s most com­pet­i­tive, pre­car­i­ous and un­pre­dictable sports.

But, for all that, there are ques­tion marks. Some, not all se­ri­ous, many of them, not over his abil­ity on the golf course where the left­hander’s touch, feel and an abil­ity to win from both the front and from the chas­ing pack are the envy of most, but over his in­tegrity and his char­ac­ter.

Most re­cently, Mick­el­son has been em­broiled in two se­vere con­tro­ver­sies over rules vi­o­la­tions.

In June this year, chas­ing an elu­sive US Open ti­tle to com­plete the set of all four Ma­jors, the Cal­i­for­nian was sit­ting com­fort­ably at four-over­par on the vi­tal Satur­day round at Shin­necock Hills. When he clum­sily over-hit a putt on the 13th green and, on see­ing where it was headed, rushed around the ball and struck it again. A breach of rule 14-5, thus in­cur­ring a two-shot penalty, tak­ing mat­ters from bad to worse.

How­ever, some fel­low pro­fes­sion­als thought the left-han­der es­caped lightly, even­tu­ally sign­ing his card for an 11-over-par 81. But 1995 U.S. PGA Cham­pion Steve Elk­ing­ton, a man never short of a few words ac­cused Mick­el­son “try­ing to em­bar­rass the USGA.” Sev­eral oth­ers call­ing for the 48-year-old to be dis­qual­i­fied, or, as a mat­ter of con­science, to with­draw him­self from the sea­son’s sec­ond Ma­jor.

Elk­ing­ton’s com­pa­triot and fel­low U.S. PGA cham­pion Ja­son Day went fur­ther, telling re­porters, “I mean it’s ob­vi­ously dis­ap­point­ing to see what Phil did," adding, "A lot of peo­ple have mixed reviews about what he did.

“They [the USGA] prob­a­bly should have en­forced a dif­fer­ent out­come for Phil,” con­cluded the 2015 U.S. PGA Cham­pi­onship win­ner.

But, Mick­el­son did not re­move him­self from ei­ther the tour­na­ment or the con­tro­versy. Lin­ing up for the fi­nal round on Sun­day, even­tu­ally shoot­ing a one-un­der 69, fi­nally fin­ish­ing in a tie for 48th place, a full 15 shots be­hind even­tual cham­pion Brooks Koepka. But, nev­er­the­less, bank­ing over US$28,000 for his con­tro­ver­sial week’s work.

Fol­low­ing the sort of rules-based brouhaha that only pro­fes­sional golf can muster, USGA chief ex­ec­u­tive Mike Davis later re­vealed that Mick­el­son had tele­phoned him to clar­ify whether or not he should have been dis­qual­i­fied.

The Tour­na­ment Direc­tor ex­plained, “Phil re­ally did want to un­der­stand how the rule op­er­ates be­cause he didn’t want to, ‘Play in this cham­pi­onship if I should have been dis­qual­i­fied’.”

Mick­el­son, who has, ‘Form’ when deal­ing fast-and-loose with the au­thor­i­ties be­lat­edly sent a mes­sage to an ex­clu­sive co­terie of, ‘Tame,’ US golf me­dia of­fer­ing-up a tardy mea culpa.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down,” he is re­ported to have said, ex­plain­ing, “My anger and frus­tra­tion got the best of me, I’m em­bar­rassed and dis­ap­pointed by my ac­tions,” ad­mit­ting, “It was clearly not my finest mo­ment, and I’m sorry.”

The mov­ing-ball rules ruckus had scarcely died-down – or been killed-off by Mick­el­son him­self. How­ever, ‘Lefty’ again fell foul of the rules when he was hit with another penalty dur­ing the fi­nal round of the PGA TOUR event at the Green­brier.

Mick­el­son was prepar­ing to play the sev­enth tee at the A Mil­i­tary Trib­ute tour­na­ment at the

Green­brier when he tamped down some rough grass at the front of the tee box.

Although the vi­o­la­tion ap­peared to be un­in­ten­tional, it tech­ni­cally im­proved his lie and line of play. Mick­el­son, af­ter con­sult­ing his cad­die/brother/con­fi­dant/agent Tim and a rules of­fi­cial, was forced to call a two-stroke penalty on him­self.

Mick­el­son said, at the time, that he "wasn't re­ally think­ing." And his rules wran­gles sub­se­quently fol­lowed him across the Atlantic, to the Scottish Open, where he missed the half­way cut in prepa­ra­tion for the Open Cham­pi­onship at Carnoustie.

Con­fronted by a less ob­se­quious UK press over the dou­ble whammy, Mick­el­son fronted-up, ad­mit­ting, “Yeah, it's not been my best month, okay. I've had a rough month, I haven't been my best, so I'm work­ing on try­ing to fix that.”

Asked if he had any re­grets then about has tran­spired over the past month, he said in what ap­peared to be an au­then­tic state­ment of re­morse and a sin­cere at­tempt to draw a line un­der the sit­u­a­tion, the pop­u­lar Amer­i­can con­ceded, “Oh, sure. I made a big mis­take, and I wish I could take it back, but I can't,” con­clud­ing, “Yeah, it wasn't a great mo­ment, and I wish I could take it back, but there's not much I can do about it now other than just try to act a lit­tle bet­ter.”

All of which could be in­ter­preted to sug­gest the man in­au­gu­rated into the World Hall of Fame in 2012 was well aware that his con­duct was un­be­com­ing of a game gov­erned by rules and reg­u­la­tions.

Nor has Mick­el­son ever been far from con­tro­versy off the golf course with un­founded al­le­ga­tions of gam­bling debts. And in the 2014 Ry­der Cup postgame press con­fer­ence, un­doubt­edly height­ened by the USA loss to Europe at Gle­nea­gles, the Cal­i­for­nian launched a with­er­ing, blis­ter­ing at­tack on the cap­taincy of Tom Wat­son.

Mean­while, ‘Lefty’ looks sure to go head-to-head, mano-a-mano against his great­est ad­ver­sary and arch-ri­val, Tiger Woods. Two gi­ants of the sport and amongst the best who ever played the game, a US$10m show­down set to take his ca­reer earn­ings to over US$100m, just on the course.

Ap­par­ently some­thing of a mav­er­ick on and off the golf course, a trait that un­doubt­edly adds to his ap­peal in a sport oc­cu­pied mainly by safe, bland and se­rial avoiders of con­tro­versy. Per­haps the last word is best left to ‘Lefty,’ who ad­mit­ted ahead of his 25th ap­pear­ance at the Open Cham­pi­onship, “I do a lot of dumb stuff.”

Just two years be­fore the 48-year-old Mick­el­son be­comes el­i­gi­ble for the Cham­pi­ons Tour and of­fi­cially be­comes an ‘El­der states­man’ of a sport that has re­warded him richly, be­yond his wildest dreams, Phil Mick­el­son needs to cut out the “Dumb stuff,” and focus on what he does best - play­ing swash­buck­ling golf, win­ning golf tour­na­ments and act­ing like the role model he is to mil­lions of young, as­pir­ing golfers around the world.

But, in the court of pub­lic opin­ion, mat­ters on and off the golf course re­gard­ing Philip Arthur Mick­el­son, cham­pion golfer, come ar­guably flawed in­di­vid­ual, the jury must re­main firmly out.

Ja­son Day also ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment over Mick­el­son’s rule vi­o­la­tion dur­ing the U.S. Open

Steve Elk­ing­ton, a man never short of a few words ac­cused Mick­el­son “try­ing to em­bar­rass the USGA”

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