It’s been a week since one of the most bizarre, scornful moments on a golf course I’ve seen in recent memory. During the U.S. Open on the 13th hole at Shinnecock Hills, fan favourite Phil Mickelson did the unthinkable. After putting his ball that would end up going past the hole, Mickelson would run after it and hit the ball in motion, preventing it from rolling off the green.
What would occur afterward would captivate the golfing world and social media. The golf purists like Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange stated this “would ruin Phil’s career and legacy.” Young golf fans on social media platforms like Twitter would stand by Mickelson, saying that he was speeding up play and making golf exciting.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is not a good look for the game of golf. But it also won’t diminish the legend of Phil Mickelson, who has put together a hall of fame worthy career despite playing in the same era as superstar Tiger Woods.
Mickelson’s Resume and Character Captivate Golf Fans
Ever since becoming a professional on the PGA Tour, Mickelson has captivated passionate golf fans all across America. He broke onto the tour at a time when Tiger Woods was the focal point superstar.
Between 1999 and 2003, Phil had 17 Top-10 finishes in majors, with six of those having him finish runner-up or in third place. When the American finally won the Masters in 2004, on a clinching putt on the 72nd hole, the golfing world was enamored by his legendary status.
Currently, Mickelson has 43 PGA Tour victories (9th all time). He has five major championships including three Masters, one PGA Championship, and an elusive Open Championship.
But what most golf fans admire about Phil is his impeccable, scrupulous character. Unlike Tiger Woods, Mickelson would spend hours after rounds signing autographs and interacting with young fans.
Phil and his wife Amy founded a philanthropic organization that supports youth and family initiatives, from raising money to provide low-income children with books to donating $100,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief.
There have been disappointing losses in the American’s career that have not phased him. From the collapse at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot to shooting a 65 at the 2016 Open Championship but still losing to Henrik Stenson, Mickelson would always deal with these losses like a true sportsman. He would take the high road, congratulating his opponent and be gracious in defeat, remaining a staple as one of the classiest golfers in the game.
Mickelson’s Mistake Dominates U.S. Open Headlines
In a tournament where Brooks Koepka’s back-to-back U.S. Open victories should have dominated headlines, it was Mickelson’s breach of rules that became the trending topic of the week.
Instead of waiting for the ball to stop, Mickelson abandoned his honourable character and broke the rules by putting it in motion. After the round, the USGA would assess a two-stroke penalty to Phil, giving him a 10 on that hole en route to his worst score ever at the U.S. Open with an 81.
Phil could’ve immediately apologized for what he did. Instead, he went on the offensive to the media after his round, suggesting for people to “toughen up.”
“I don’t mean it disrespectful; if you’re taking it that way, that’s not on me,” Phil said immediately after the round. “I’m sorry that you’re taking it that way, it’s certainly not meant that way. Sometimes in these situations, it’s just easier to take the 2 shots and move on.”
The golf superstar did speak to USGA Chief Executive Mike Davis about the rule and whether or not he should be disqualified, as many golf experts called for.
“As he said to me, ‘Mike, I don’t want to play in this championship if I should have been disqualified,’ USGA chief executive Mike Davis said. “That’s where we clarified that ‘Phil, you make a stroke at a moving ball, so we have to apply that rule. That’s different than if he had deliberately just stopped the ball or whacked it in another direction or something like that. So it’s just us applying the rules.”
Other golfers came to the defense of Mickelson, saying that the mistake was blown out of proportion by the media.
“Honestly, I laughed [when I heard about it],” Rory McIlroy told reporters on Wednesday. “I felt it was a massive overreaction to it. Phil knew what he was doing. Look, as a player who has been in that headspace at that tournament, I can see it happening to people.”
As Jordan Spieth stated, “Phil knows the rules. If there was a chance it was going to go back behind the bunker and he’s got to chip back or he was going to play off the green anyway … so he was potentially saving himself a shot. So if that was the intent, then what’s the harm in that? He’s playing for the best score he can.”
Mickelson Apologizes for Gaffe, Still Adored By Fans
Four days after the U.S. Open, Phil finally apologized for his actions.
“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down,” Phil wrote. “My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend. I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”
For a man that represented class, integrity, and rectitude, this was a moment that will put a blemish on his legacy. Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus would never commit an act like this. Their moral strengths and commitment to following the rules was always apparent.
Golf has always been perceived as an elitist sport. There are unwritten rules about the game; always being silent when someone plays, clapping after converted putts.
Even if young golf fans are apathetic to the traditional roots of the game, Mickelson’s actions do not project a positive image to emulate. Kids are watching these tournaments and look up to golfers like Phil as the idols of the game. It should never be okay to break the rules, let alone ruin the integrity of the game.
But fans have already cemented Mickelson as one of their own. His “aw shucks” persona and ability to connect with followers will make what happened at the U.S. Open nothing more than a small gaffe.
This was not Phil’s best moment. But if he ever wins a tournament or major championship again, the golfing world will congregate with happiness and joy.
But whenever one of Mickelson’s putts rolls past the hole, golf fans will be on the edge of their seats, to see if “Putt-Gate” will take place once again.