MICK­EL­SON MELT­DOWN

Phil Mick­el­son snapped in round three of the 118th United States Open at Shin­necock Hills. The world watched as one of the most re­spected play­ers in the game did the un­think­able and his ac­tions cre­ated a storm of con­tro­versy.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - PGA OF NZ -

Phil Aickin on how the rules were ap­plied to Mick­el­son's dou­ble hit.

The United States Open is al­ways an in­trigu­ing watch. The USGA and their Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, Mike Davis, pre­pare a golf course that is right on the edge of playa­bil­ity. They say they want to test ev­ery facet of a player's game, in­clud­ing ball strik­ing, short game, course man­age­ment and men­tal game. They say they are not fix­ated on par as the win­ning score, but more fix­ated on each in­di­vid­ual hole be­ing as test­ing as pos­si­ble. It all adds up to po­ten­tial dis­as­ter if the weather fore­cast de­vi­ates pro­vid­ing more wind or sun to dry the course and greens sur­face.

Shin­necock Hills is one of the best cour­ses in the world but when host­ing re­cent US Opens it has been re­mem­bered for all the wrong rea­sons. In 2004 the course was close to un­playable over the week­end with the fi­nal round scor­ing av­er­age an in­cred­i­ble nine over par 79. Play­ers could not keep iron shots, chips and even putts on the par-3 sev­enth green caus­ing of­fi­cials to ap­ply wa­ter be­tween groups on the fi­nal day. At this year's cham­pi­onship, there was nearly a re­peat of this dur­ing round three when some pin place­ments proved to be too close to fall off ar­eas and good shots were no longer be­ing re­warded. In fact, they were be­ing pe­nalised with the ball fin­ish­ing in places where bo­gey be­came a good score and dou­ble bo­geys were com­mon.

A course set up on such an edge causes frus­tra­tion but there is still no ex­cuse for what took place on the 13th green in the fi­nal round where Mick­el­son de­lib­er­ately made a stroke at a mov­ing ball, re­sem­bling field hockey, rather than golf.

From a rules per­spec­tive he was saved by the ac­tion of strik­ing the ball, meet­ing the def­i­ni­tion of a stroke, which in­volves the for­ward move­ment of the club. Of­fi­cials were then able to re­fer to Rule 14-5, which states that a player must not make a stroke at a mov­ing ball, with the penalty be­ing two strokes. If he had taken ac­tion to stop the ball, Rule 1-2 would have been ap­plied which re­lates to ex­ert­ing in­flu­ence on the move­ment of a ball re­sult­ing in a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage. For this breach the penalty is dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Mick­el­son could have saved him­self this em­bar­rass­ment by show­ing an even bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the Rules of Golf. Un­der Rule 28, Un­playable ball, a player may deem his ball un­playable any­where on the course, so if he didn't like where his ball fin­ished, which was likely to be off the green and be­hind a bunker, he could take the un­playable and place the ball within two club lengths of where his orig­i­nal putt was. Now that would have looked clever.

In­stead, Mick­el­son snapped. The many years of US Open frus­tra­tion and the baked golf course, which he had pleaded to the USGA prior to the event to avoid, re­sulted in a brain ex­plo­sion. His rep­u­ta­tion for many has been shat­tered. He fi­nally apol­o­gised, but it took him four days to re­cover from his anger and frus­tra­tion.

Was the two-stroke penalty as­sessed by the USGA cor­rect? Yes.

Was this ac­tion within the spirit of fair com­pe­ti­tion? In my opin­ion, No.

Like Oak­mont in 2016, could this re­sult in a change to rule 14-5, pro­vid­ing an op­tion for a com­mit­tee to re­gard this type of ac­tion as a se­ri­ous breach and there­fore dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion? Per­haps.

Should Mick­el­son have with­drawn af­ter he re­alised the im­pact of his ac­tions? Per­son­ally, I think he should have been en­cour­aged to. He could have quickly re­paired the dam­age to his rep­u­ta­tion and the neg­a­tive im­pact on the game would have set­tled down.

I do like the best golfers be­ing chal­lenged by tough con­di­tions, but the USGA need to back off a lit­tle and al­low for chang­ing con­di­tions. Play­ers less frus­trated will re­sult in less con­tro­versy and more fo­cus on the win­ner and the pos­i­tive test of the golf course.

Phil Mick­el­son with his cad­die Tim Mick­el­son.

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