- Phil Mickelson committed a bizarre penalty at the US Open on Saturday when he putted a ball a second time before the ball had stopped moving.
- The infraction earned Mickelson a two-stroke penalty, but many believe he should have been disqualified.
- Mickelson later acknowledged that the move was calculated because he didn’t want the ball to roll off the green.
- The US Golf Association cited one rule as having precedence over a second rule that could have DQ’d Mickelson.
Phil Mickelson started the final round of the US Open at Shinnecock Hills 14 strokes behind the leaders, but he had become the story of the tournament thanks to a bizarre penalty and a ruling from the US Golf Association that many disagreed with.
The incident came on the 13th hole of the third round on Saturday when Mickelson hit his bogey putt well past the hole and it appeared destined to roll off the green. Rather than wait to see where the ball might end up, Mickelson ran after the ball and hit it again as it was still moving.
The Fox announcer Joe Buck was stunned and momentarily speechless.
After the putt, the golf commentator Curtis Strange may have summed it up best as Mickelson was walking off the green with a big smile on his face.
“I’ve never seen anything like that from a world-class player in my life,” Strange said.
Mickelson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for the infraction as the US Golf Association cited Rule 14-5.
Rule 14-5 appears to be written for cases in which a player accidentally hits a moving ball. Here is how it is written (note the final line):
But in citing Rule 14-5, the USGA superseded Rule 1-2. Again, note that the last line in Rule 14-5 says Rule 1-2 becomes the law of the land if the ball is purposely deflected or stopped.
Mickelson did later acknowledge that he intentionally hit the moving ball because he didn’t want it to roll off the green.
“I know it’s a two-shot penalty, and at that time I just didn’t feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over,” Mickelson told Fox. “I took the two-shot penalty and moved on. It’s my understanding of the rules. I have had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that. I just finally did … I would gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”
The difference in rules is significant.
Rule 1-2 comes with a provision that would have allowed Mickelson to be disqualified if the action were deemed to have gained him a “significant advantage.”
Here is how Rule 1-2 is written (emphasis ours):
Mickelson’s comments seem to suggest he was attempting to gain an advantage. Still, “advantage” is subjective, and it is up for debate how “significant” it was if he still scored a 10 on the hole and was 21 strokes behind the leader (at the time).
Even if Rule 1-2 had been enforced, there is no guarantee it would have resulted in a DQ. But we never got to find out because the USGA used Rule 14-5.
According to the golf writer Jason Sobel, the USGA used Rule 14-5 because it had determined the ball was not “deflected or stopped” by Mickelson.
“USGA’s John Bodenhamer says Phil Mickelson was assessed a penalty for violating Rule 14-5, but not Rule 1-2, because, ‘He didn’t purposely stop or deflect the ball,'” Sobel wrote on Twitter. “Yes, you read that correctly. If Mickelson had ‘stopped’ or ‘deflected’ the ball, he would have been disqualified. But since he merely continued to hit a moving ball, the USGA has deemed that only worthy of a two-stroke penalty.”
Many in the golf world, including other pro golfers, disagreed with the decision.
Stuart Appleby disagreed with the decision to use Rule 14-5 because, he said, it would require a player to be addressing the ball from a normal shot stance.
Fellow golfer Edoardo Molinari also said it should have been a DQ.
Some other reactions from the golf world:
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