Golf, as we know it, has come to an end, according to the purists. Phil Mickelson, a man who is paid millions of dollars to play a game that began on sacred ground “across The Pond,” committed an unconscionable error by hitting his golf ball while it was still in motion.
He committed what the Gods of Golf believe to be an affront to all professional and amateur golfers, both alive and dead. This heinous act of selfishness and disregard for the rules brought forth the penalty of the United States Professional Golf Association’s Rules of Golf Rule 14-5.
Mickelson, more affectionately known as “Lefty,” has won 43 events on the PGA Tour, including three Masters, one PGA and an Open Championship. He has yet to win the U.S. Open, which he was playing this past weekend. Obviously, he knows the rules.
So, here’s Lefty on No. 13 at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York, on Saturday – which happened to be his birthday. As his bogey putt on the par-4 was going by the cup, he decided he didn’t want to play “Army golf” (left, right, left, right) and whacked it back toward the hole.
Fortunately, Mickelson hit the ball while it was still moving. If he had stopped the ball or pulled out his “foot wedge” to let it bounce off his G/FORE shoes, he would have been disqualified. Yep, that’s the difference in the rules.
Much debate has been made about the difference between Rule 14-5 – which was quoted as the reason for the penalty – and Rule 1-2. The latter concerns “Exerting Influence on Movement of Ball or Altering Physical Conditions.” Both force a two-stroke penalty, but Rule 1-2 goes farther, saying, “In the case of a serious breach of Rule 1-2, the Committee may impose a penalty of disqualification.”
So, OK, was what Mickelson did on Saturday “a serious breach” of the rules? Like most opinions, it depends on who you ask.
Some of the professional golfers said Lefty should have been disqualified, kicked out, tarred, feathered and strapped to the whipping post. No punishment would have been good enough, according to some golfers and broadcasters.
I was especially tickled to hear an announcer from “across The Pond” during the televised coverage say Mickelson had besmirched the “spirit of the game.” I was reminded that it is just “a game,” although I would be happy to take home the $27,952 that Mickelson won for finishing in 48th place.
Mickelson went so far as to speak with United States Golf Association executive director Mike Davis after the backlash from the putting faux pas. His wife, Amy, was quoted as saying, “You know it's not his finest moment, but hopefully he'll learn from it. Like anybody, good people make mistakes. We all have a moment in life sometimes and that was kind of a moment I think for him.”
Mickelson agreed in an interview with Fox.
“I have had multiple times where I've wanted to do that,” he said. “I just finally did. ... I would gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”
Again, he took a 10 on the hole – the highest score for any hole in the U.S. Open – and he was 21 shots behind the leaders at that time.
I freely and willingly admit I am guilty of not following Rule 1-3 every time I play golf. Rule 1-3 is titled “Agreement to Waive Rules – Players must not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred.”
The penalty – disqualification. For me, who is finding it hard to play double-digit golf anymore, that would be a blessing.
Buster Wolfe is an awarding winning sports columnist for PineBeltSPORTS and staff writer for HubCitySPOKES after reporting on Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana teams for more than 45 years. To contact him, call (601) 268-2331 or write to buster@HubCitySPOKES.com