SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK | 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 Phil Mickelson did Saturday at Shinnecock Hills.
He’s not going to win the U.S. Open this year or any other year, it seems now. And in the process of trying to look smart when he quick hit his rolling putt on the 13th green, Mickelson wound up looking petulant.
On his 48th birthday, Mickelson gave himself a black eye.
What Mickelson did – and he smiled about it as he was doing it – brought to mind the old adage about the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
Mickelson was within the Rules of Golf in doing what he did, knowing it came with a two-stroke penalty, but it violated the spirit of the game. Deep down, Mickelson probably knows that.
He even called USGA executive director Mike Davis late Saturday to talk about the incident and the penalty.
Should he have been disqualified?
If that fit within the rules – and there is a spider web of rules interpretations that can touch on what Mickelson did – but the USGA decided otherwise.
Still, it feels like the punishment didn’t fit the crime against the game, if not specifically against the rules.
He apologized to anyone who was offended by what he did, acting as if the thought hadn’t occurred to him.
“Toughen up,” Mickelson said.
That was an ironic choice of words from a guy who decided the next shot he was going to have to hit on the 13th hole might be harder than penalizing himself was. It was a hard golf course for everyone Saturday. Try finding a player who didn’t think they got an unfair result on a shot they hit at some point in their round. (OK, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau didn’t, but they shot 66 in softer conditions).
Mickelson made this a part of his U.S. Open record, which was cluttered already with seemingly everything but a trophy. As much as he tried to laugh it off Saturday, it’s something that will stay with Mickelson