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