The fans and the USGA – and even some of the media – have let Phil Mickelson off for his misgivings on Saturday at the US Open. And golf will suffer, writes Steve Carroll
Was Phil Mickelson right after all? Do we really just need to “toughen up”?
Sunday morning at the US Open and the fall out from Lefty’s transgressions at the 13th hole yesterday had yet to abate in the media centre.
I’d spent the evening watching it parrot fashion on the Golf Channel. I’ve plenty of battle scars from putting a ball off a tricky slope but I’ve never considered stopping one in mid flow.
The pundits were suggesting that Phil’s reputation had been irrevocably damaged by the events of the day – that no matter what he did from now on there would be a stain on his character.
Mickelson’s meltdown had been so complete he was only in the third group out for the final round so I tagged along to see how the crowd would respond – after all he’s been their darling for more than two decades.
It was clear from the 1st green that nothing had changed.
His gallery was large. The exhortations were completely positive. It remained a sea of mobile phones – even the marshalls got involved.
Everyone took pictures and everyone cheered – particularly when he hit a memorable iron shot out of thick rough to the green on six on his way to an outward 32.
It was business as usual.
I sat in the bleachers on seven and witnessed the usual ‘let’s go Phil’ refrains, belated birthday wishes and ‘Happy Father’s Day’ cries.
There was not a cry of derision to be heard.
This seemed unbelievable to me, given the cynical nature of the rules breach and the subsequent supporting statement that was so at odds with the spirit of the game.
So I went more direct. I asked a dozen people – Yes or No – ‘does it matter what Phil Mickelson did yesterday?’
I questioned a cross section – men, women, young, old, those who were clearly golfers and those that weren’t.
Every single person uttered the same word: No.
“It’s a tough course.” “He’s a seasoned warrior.” “It doesn’t matter,” came the defiance from those who elaborated.
As the day got hotter, the love only got greater as Mickelson birdied 15 and 16 and finished his tournament with a 69.
I’m not really sure what to make of it all. What Phil did wasn’t a mistake. It was an intentional breaking of a rule that was surely never designed to be used in the way he interpreted it.
At the very least, it was grossly against the spirit of the game and, yet, it made no impact on the galleries following him around Shinnecock Hills for the final time.
They’d seen it, and the reaction to it, and they just didn’t care.
As Tiger has repeatedly proved, people are prepared to forgive their idols almost anything.
I think the sport is poorer for that.
Golf is a self-policing game. It relies on everyone not just following the rules, but obeying the spirit of them as well – not breaking them because we’re annoyed at how the course is set up.
If we’re not going to play by those traditions, then what’s the point?