Phil Mickelson’s de­ci­sion to de­lib­er­ately hit a mov­ing ball cost him two shots and a se­vere dent to his le­gacy, says Nick Wright

Golf World (UK) - - US OPEN REVIEW -

At its core, golf is a very sim­ple game. You hit the ball, you find it and you hit it again, re­peat­ing that process un­til it falls into the hole. The Rules of Golf can of­ten be com­plex, but there is no am­bi­gu­ity in 14-5, which states, “A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is mov­ing.” Nor are there any grey ar­eas in 1-2, which pe­nalises play­ers if they in­ten­tion­ally in­flu­ence the move­ment of a ball in play”.

So what hap­pened?

At 13 in the third round, Mickelson’s seven-foot bo­gey putt slid past the hole to­wards a slope. Like a young kid play­ing crazy golf, Leftie ran af­ter the ball, hit it while it was still mov­ing and bat­ted it back and forth be­fore hol­ing out for an eight, which be­came a 10 with the ad­di­tion of a two-stroke penalty.

Which rule was ap­plied?

In­ter­est­ingly, Rule 14-5 was ap­plied in­stead of Rule 1-2, which prob­a­bly orig­i­nated to pre­vent this ex­act sce­nario from oc­cur­ring. That rule has a clause that says a player can be dis­qual­i­fied if he gains a “sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage”.

Did he gain a ad­van­tage?

We can as­sume that no­body de­lib­er­ately breaks a rule to dis­ad­van­tage them­self. If Mickelson had not in­ter­jected, his ball would have rolled down the slope where it could eas­ily have found a hor­ror lie. Then again, it’s un­likely he would have taken five more shots to hole out.

Should he have been dis­qual­i­fied?

De­lib­er­ately break­ing a rule con­flicts with the spirit in which golf is played. Mickelson’s se­ri­ous breach of eti­quette could have been pun­ished by dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion un­der Rule 33-7. In ap­ply­ing just a two-shot penalty, the USGA ef­fec­tively en­dorsed his ac­tions.

What op­tions did the USGA have?

The USGA was caught be­tween a rock and a hard place. Since Mickelson ad­mit­ted to in­ten­tion­ally vi­o­lat­ing a rule, dis­qual­i­fy­ing him would have meant la­belling him a cheat in its flag­ship event. Plus, they had an even stronger mo­ti­va­tion not to take that op­tion.

Which was?

Mickelson’s ex­pla­na­tion was that he sim­ply used a rule he knew to his ad­van­tage, but many be­lieve he was look­ing to ridicule the USGA by draw­ing at­ten­tion to the ex­treme course set-up that day. Phil is very me­dia-savvy and knew the press would jump on the story. If the USGA had opted to dis­qual­ify him, it would have over­shad­owed the cham­pi­onship.

So where does that leave Phil now?

De­pend­ing on whom you ask, Phil is ei­ther the most gen­uinely af­fa­ble guy in golf, or the world’s big­gest faker. Ei­ther way, his rep­u­ta­tion has al­ways been pretty much bul­let­proof. How­ever, this se­ri­ous er­ror of judge­ment changes the way he will be per­ceived by many fans and his fel­low play­ers.

Play­ing part­ner An­drew “Beef” John­ston played down the im­pact of Mickelson’s an­tics.

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