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