SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK | Phil Mickelson has a simple message for anyone bothered by his unconventional use of the Rules of Golf, specifically Rule 14-5.
“If somebody is offended by that, I apologize to them. But toughen up,” Mickelson said. “This is not meant that way. I just wanted to get on to the next hole and I didn’t see that happening at that time.”
In a career cluttered with memorable moments, particularly in the U.S. Open, Mickelson intentionally created another Saturday when he trotted after his rolling bogey putt and quickly hit it back toward the hole on the 13th green to keep it from eventually going off the putting surface.
It didn’t do much good, ultimately, as Mickelson (who shot 81) signed for a 10 on the par-4 hole, willingly accepting the two-stroke penalty that was the cost of his intentional rules violation.
It was, in a word, bizarre.
Was it clever? Mickelson obviously had given it some thought beforehand.
Was it the right thing to do?
It looked and felt wrong.
Letter of the law versus the spirit of the law.
There’s an old adage in golf that players should use the rules to their advantage. That’s what Mickelson insists he did when he chased after his bogey putt that was slipping away down a slope. Rather than let his ball finish in a particularly bad spot, Mickelson chose to accept a penalty even if it seemed like an affront to the game’s etiquette.
“I know the rules,” he said. “The ball was going to go off in a bad spot. I didn’t feel like continuing my display and I would gladly take the two-shot penalty and move on.
“I don’t see how knowing the rules and using them is a manipulation.”
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
Mickelson added that he should have done something similar on the 15th hole at Augusta National in previous years to keep shots from rolling into the pond there.
John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior manager for championships and governance, said Mickelson did not violate Rule 1-2 by purposely deflecting or stopping the ball but instead played a moving ball. Violation of Rule 1-2 could lead to disqualification if it is deemed a serious breach.
“We are operating strictly under 14-5,” Bodenhamer said. “It’s pretty clear he played a moving ball. It’s simply we’re operating on what we saw.”
It’s not like Mickelson was in contention. The best that could be said for his Saturday was fans continually showered him with 48th birthday wishes and a few choruses of Happy Birthday as he went around in the bright sunshine.
“Just one of the mad moments,” said Andrew “Beef” Johnston, Mickelson’s playing partner Saturday.
It was not, Mickelson insisted, a fit of temper or built-up frustration. It was the best way for him to finish the 13th hole without making a potentially bigger mess.
Mickelson even smiled as he was in the midst of the seeming madness. As he and Johnston walked to the 14th tee, they had grins on their faces.
“I said, ‘That’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen,’ and then just started laughing, to be honest,” Johnston said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got to laugh at this.’ ”
Mickelson did, too.
“How can you not laugh? It’s funny. It’s part of the U.S. Open. It’s just funny,” he said.
Not everyone was laughing.