Mickelson should get a misconduct for turning U.S. Open into hockey

In all my years of watching golf’s major tournaments on television, I can’t recall another moment like it.

Here I was, enjoying the rhythm of the U.S. Open, when my viewing experience was jolted by the sight of Phil Mickelson running after his rolling putt and then – unbelievably – knocking the ball back toward the hole.

I couldn’t believe what I just saw. I was stupefied. I was angry. Outraged, even.

Phil, what are you doing?

I was even more disappointed to hear his explanation afterward. He said he didn’t think it was a big deal. He said that anyone bothered by it should just get over it. He said he was just taking advantage of the rules and, besides, he didn’t feel like watching his ball roll off the green.

Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that I’ve always been a big fan of Lefty. Whenever he’s in contention, I’m rooting for him. I loved his mini-jump after winning his first Masters. I was thrilled a few years ago when he finally won The Open Championship. I felt crushed when he hit bad shot after bad shot on the 72nd hole to blow the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

But what he did in the third round Saturday now stands alongside all those other memories. Just like that, he went from an endearing figure, a guy who’s so much fun to watch, to a player who at best was guilty of gamesmanship and at worst should have been disqualified.

Phil, what are you doing?

At the risk of sounding like another one of those people who doesn’t get it, in Phil’s eyes, here’s why I think it is a very big deal – and why Phil is the one who doesn’t get it.

My two favorite sports are golf and baseball. Part of the attraction, for me, is that no two courses or ballparks are exactly alike. Another positive is that neither has a clock; you just play the requisite number of holes or innings to determine a winner.

But there’s one big reason why, if I had to choose between the two, I’d go with golf. It comes down to a saying in baseball:

If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.

That’s not golf. That’s not golf at all. It is built on honesty. Apply that saying to our great game, and it would go like this:

If you’re tryin’, you ain’t cheatin’.

Technically, Mickelson wasn’t cheating, but here’s the problem with his explanation:

The very same thing has happened on the 15th hole at Augusta National – putts have rolled right off the green into the water. That would be even worse than watching your ball descend off the putting surface on No. 13 at Shinnecock Hills. So it’s OK now to chase it down, stop it from getting wet, slap it back toward the hole and take the two-shot penalty?

Rationalize all you want, but that isn’t the spirit of the rule. That isn’t the spirit of the game. That’s something we do in our Saturday morning foursome when we miss a two-footer for bogey.

I think the proper response for what happened is for golf’s major governing bodies to issue a joint statement that any pro who intentionally hits the ball while it’s moving will be sent home immediately. No need for discussion. It’s clearly wrong.

Mickelson was allowed to finish the U.S. Open. He actually had a good closing round – shot 69. It’s a shame. It’s a terrible example for younger players. But I hope he went home asking himself one question:

Phil, what are you doing?



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