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By Ron Green Jr. of Global Golf Post
On Sunday, long before the U.S. Open leaders were to tee off, Phil Mickelson (above) signed for his final-round 69 at Shinnecock Hills and walked outside to work his way down a long line of autograph seekers.
He held cameras for selfies and smiled the Mickelson smile while his family patiently waited to go home.
Mickelson chose not to elaborate with the media on his controversial and intentional rules violation when he putted his moving ball on the 13th green in Saturday’s third round. He did have a small celebration when he holed his par putt on that green Sunday but that was all Mickelson offered in terms of fresh perspective on one of the strangest moments in his colorful career.
By late Saturday, when his frustration had subsided and the impact of what he had done began to hit him, Mickelson called USGA CEO Mike Davis to ask if he should be disqualified. He knew what he was doing in his moment of pique, understanding the two-stroke penalty was coming, but he hadn’t fully considered whether it was grounds for disqualification.
If disqualification was justified, Mickelson was prepared to accept it.
The USGA decided two strokes was the proper penalty but the damaged Phil Mickelson’s image, while likely only temporary, had been done. He had spoiled his own 48th birthday celebration at Shinnecock Hills.
It was not his finest moment. He understood that, even texting some people his regrets.
Mickelson hadn’t helped himself by sounding defiant in his post-round comments on Saturday, suggesting fans should “toughen up” if they thought he had violated the game’s code of conduct. Tone aside, it was a poor choice of words for a man who admitted he’d done what he did to avoid the difficult shot he was going to face had he not whacked his ball back towards the hole as it rolled.
Had Mickelson apologized, said the game drove him to it and he was embarrassed by his actions, it would have been more palatable than how he handled the immediate aftermath. In retrospect, Mickelson probably knows that.
People close to him were disappointed by what Mickelson had done and the avalanche of outrage that followed his display was overwhelmingly critical of him.
It’s one thing to use the Rules of Golf to your advantage. It’s part of the game, counsel passed down through years.
It’s something else to abuse the rules the way Mickelson did in the temper-driven moment.
Should he have been disqualified?
The USGA did not disqualify John Daly or Kirk Triplett when they did similar things in previous U.S. Opens. Mickelson was penalized for doing what he did – he carded a 10 on the 13th hole during his third round 81 – but it also violated the spirit of the game, which is why it felt as if the punishment didn’t fit the crime.
It’s a maddening game, never more than in the U.S. Open, which is constructed to torment players. Mickelson momentarily lost his cool. If you ‘ve played the game, you’ve been there.
Mickelson, who ultimately finished T48 at 16-over-par, should have been better than that but in that moment, he wasn’t. It will follow him but won’t define him.
A six-time U.S. Open runner-up, Mickelson knows the disappointment and frustration of the national championship more than perhaps anyone. He learned a little more about those things at Shinnecock Hills and we learned a little more about him.
Republished with permissino from Global Golf Post.