There’s a lot to be said about Phil Mickelson after semantics spared him a disqualification.
I’ve never liked Mickelson, so that’s out of the way nice and early.
I’ve always found his smile to be fake. Contrived. That now trademark grin and thumbs up photo often haunts my dreams. I wonder if I’m a good judge of character or I just got a lucky break on this occasion, but his actions on Saturday have given me and many around the world conclusive proof that he’s not your boy next door or a good guy who just likes to goof around, play good golf and roast a few friends in the process.
There’s more than a few stories of him being, well… the opposite to what the kind of guy I just described.
The main one for me was he humiliated Tom Watson after the 2014 Ryder Cup where Team USA lost to Europe. After slamming his leadership, the kind of thing someone might do in the privacy of the team room or face to face, the question was posed: ‘That felt like a pretty brutal destruction of the leadership that’s gone on this week.’
His response, read carefully, matters. ‘Oh, I’m sorry you’re taking it that way.’
Skip ahead, past all his brilliant performances – I can acknowledge that he’s a world-class player – to the 13th hole at Shinnecock Hills during the US Open, his beloved national championship. The only Major missing from his mantlepiece.
With conditions getting, let’s use the word ‘dicey’, he putted wildly past the cup and then proceeded to run after his ball. He watched as it picked up momentum and then hit it back towards the hole when it was about to roll off the putting surface.
For all the world to see, he hit a moving ball and the reason was obvious… he didn’t like where it was going to roll to.
If’s that not cheating and playing against the rules, then I really don’t know what is? (More on this later.)
What was more shocking was what followed.
He played his round, laughed and giggled with Beef Johnston, who is such a great human that he could only see the funny side to the bizarre action of a seasoned pro ‘losing his mind’ in the heat of battle during a Major on global television. (My words not Beef’s.)
What did Phil do next?
He played on, hit a trademark flop shot that most amateurs, myself included, would’ve skulled 150 metres back down the fairway and then signed his card, explained himself to the rules officials before meeting the assembled journalists.
For brevity’s sake, let’s summarise the next little bit as follows:
He knew what was happening, he didn’t want to go back and forth replaying the same shot, took advantage of the rules and was happy with the two-shot penalty. Further, he’s wanted to do this for a while and eventually brought his ‘trick’ out of the bag.
I was one of the many who took to Twitter to ‘voice’ my outrage. He’s blatantly admitted to cheating but the USGA used one rule over another and a generous interpretation of that to avoid making the right decision. Two-shots for blatant cheating. Good job USGA.
Phil’s response to me and many who think he gave the rule book and the spirit of the game the middle finger?
‘If somebody is offended by that I apologise to them. But toughen up, because this is not meant that way.’
Vintage Phil. It’s not his fault, but yours if you have a problem for his conduct.
He failed to accept his bad golf and the consequences of a bad putt, he got frustrated and made a huge error. He then found a way to wiggle out of the consequences and blames you for getting worked up by his cheating.
If we’re not disqualifying Phil, what are we doing?
What example is being set? What kind of game are we even playing, watching, loving, teaching to our children? The rules of golf are tough, often complicated but in this case, we all know he gained a significant advantage.
If hitting a moving ball bound for danger is not cheating and rules are used to okay this action, then is that even golf?
The USGA dropped the ball on the course setup but its mistake not to hold Mickelson to account was a far more serious error in judgement. Something, Phil knows a thing or two about.
Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images