If you didn’t see highlights from the third round of this year’s US Open men’s golf championship, the most controversial moment of the day came from a golfer who shot an 81 and was near the bottom of the field.
Phil Mickelson, of course!
In case you didn’t see the event which sent the golf world into an old-school twitter, Phil Mickelson (obviously frustrated by the incredibly difficult pin positions and green speeds at Shinnecock Hills on Saturday) missed a relatively short putt which ran past the 13th hole and was clearly picking up steam, heading down a hill, and back into the fairway. After the ball edged its way past the hole, Phil jogged toward the steamrolling ball, outstretched his arms, and putted the ball back toward the hole!
He was charged with a two stroke penalty, but, in the eyes of golf purists, he committed a sin of unpardonable magnitude. Why, he had disrespected the game itself!
Curtis Strange, a two-time US Open champion working the tournament for Fox Sports, commented, “I’ve never seen anything like that from a world-class player.”
Paul Azinger, a former PGA champion, added, “That’s the most out-of-character I’ve ever seen Phil Mickelson.”
Worldwide opinion was even more openly angry. One British golf writer called Phil a “chump” and “silly a$$” for his disrespectful golf behavior.
What in the name of Arnold Palmer was Phil thinking at the moment?
Phil’s playing partner, the lovable Brit, Andrew “Beef” Johnston, posted his own thoughts via the new-fangled Twitter:
To make things very clear. That putt never put me off at all. My brain didn’t work today. Phil is a ledge. It’s a moment that happens. It’s so tough out there. He didn’t mean it. It just happened. End of story haha.
— Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston (@BeefGolf) June 16, 2018
After the round, Mickelson didn’t help himself by digging a deeper hole of shame as he spouted off a variety of excuses about his boorish (for Phil) on-course behavior.
As a serious golfer myself and a USGA member since 1994 (according to my bag tag), I thought Phil had simply given up on his chances at this point and made a bone-headed (but temporarily quite funny) mistake. Mickelson’s frustrations with his inability to win the US Open (and complete the career Grand Slam of major championships) are legendary. I think he temporarily lost his cool as he saw yet another US Open slipping away from him – literally right down the 13th green.
In my opinion, Phil should have apologized profusely for his brief lapse of golf etiquette and (my opinion) voluntarily withdrawn as his punishment.
Ultimately, Mickelson played in Sunday’s final round, shot a respectable one-under par 69, and finished tied for 48th place.
According to the latest Ryder Cup rankings, Phil Mickelson is currently ranked in the eighth position and would have the final guaranteed spot onto the 2018 US team, which will compete against the Europeans this September in France.
But, what happens if Phil slips a few spots over the next few months and is no longer an automatic qualifier in 2018?
I think it is entirely possible that, due to the public relations fallout over Phil Mickelson’s US Open gaffe, the US Ryder Cup team captain, Jim Furyk, may think hard before naming Phil as one of the four “Captain’s picks” for this year’s squad. Furyk may not want to deal with the heat.
Though Phil Mickelson owns a British Open title and, prior to this weekend, was generally beloved by most golf fans, his brief lapse during Saturday’s third round of the US Open will make him an easy target for heckling by Euro golf fans during Ryder Cup week.
Phil has no one to blame but himself, and he should be prepared to accept the consequences should his Ryder Cup streak come to an end this September.