Phil Mickelson’s 48th birthday got off to a jovial start when his playing partner Andrew Johnston presented him with a towel with a picture of a huge beef (get it) and cheddar sandwich.
The fans sang happy birthday wherever he went and he then played the first four holes in 1-under to get back to 5-over and on the periphery of the championship. And then Shinnecock, where he has finished 4th and 2nd on previous visits, took a hold and he dropped five shots in the next eight holes.
And then this happened at the 13th…
A remarkable sequence on Hole 13, where Phil Mickelson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball and ended up making a 10 on the hole. pic.twitter.com/kx6ieYiOGR
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 16, 2018
The logical reaction was that he had pulled out.
‘PHIL MICKELSON WITHDRAWS’ Sky Sports screamed at us.
Something must be amiss, an old wrist injury was suggested, but then he played on, presumably to continue to mark Beef’s card?
But he kept playing on and it quickly dawned on all of us that he had simply just stopped his ball rolling back off the green. He had already chipped off the putting surface moments earlier.
Of all the brain farts that Mickelson has had on a golf course this trumped the lot by a country mile.
Afterwards there was barely an apology, more that it was a considered move albeit in the heat of the moment.
“I don’t mean disrespect to anybody. I know it’s a two-shot penalty. At that time, I just didn’t feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over. I took the two-shot penalty and moved on. It’s my understanding of the rules. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that. I just finally did.”
No papering over the cracks, no ‘I just wasn’t thinking straight, it’s been a long week blah blah’, just a very candid – and very odd – explanation of things.
Was the ball going to roll off the green?
“No question. It was going to go down in the same spot behind the bunker. I wasn’t going to have a shot. I don’t know if I was able to save a shot or not. I know it’s a two-shot penalty hitting a moving ball. I tried to hit it as close as I could on the next one, and you take the two shots and move on.
“It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can. In that situation, I was just going back and forth. I would gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”
And with what happened and the explanation that followed it he added another chapter to his US Open record, the championship in which he has posted six runners-up spots and the one he craves to complete the career Grand Slam, and quite possibly his most memorable.
This isn’t the type of incident that disappears after a couple of weeks, this is completely against the spirit of the game.
It was so out of character with what goes on in tournament golf that nobody could remember seeing anything similar other than John Daly doing something similar in protest at the 1999 edition at Pinehurst.
His one-time and long-term coach Butch Harmon could barely comprehend what had gone on, Ewan Murray was the same.
Now we all know that playing a moving ball is Rule 14-5. The USGA explained that they were covered by the ruling though Rule 1-2 states that if a ball is purposely deflected or stopped, which it was in this case, then a player could be disqualified for a serious breach of that rule.
The USGA’s John Bodenhamer curiously explained: “Phil didn’t purposely deflect or stop the ball, which is talked about in the reference under Rule 14-5, if you look at it. 14-5 explicitly covers a player making a stroke at a moving ball, and so we operated under that rule.”
As for Johnston who had the best seat in the house, he added: “I think it’s just a moment of madness. He just looked at me and just laughed. We just laughed at it. He had no words to say what he did.”
Had the Englishman ever considered doing something similar in a round?
“I don’t think anyone has the thought. And that’s why it was so strange because I don’t think anyone had them thoughts. No-one ever has them thoughts.”
Except Phil apparently.
Mickelson has always divided opinion. Some love him to bits, others think he’s a bit of a fraud.
This, from every angle, was a shambolic state of affairs.