Shackelford: Lefty's legacy loses luster with breach of rules worthy of DQ

SOUTHAMPTON, NY - JUNE 16: Phil Mickelson of the United States smiles on the third green during the third round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on June 16, 2018 in Southampton, New York. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images) Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Shackelford: Lefty's legacy loses luster with breach of rules worthy of DQ

PGA Tour

Shackelford: Lefty's legacy loses luster with breach of rules worthy of DQ

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Phil Mickelson apologized.

Not for bending the spirit of golf’s rules.

Not for receiving a birthday gift of epic proportions from the U.S. Golf Association.

Not for taking attention away from the national championship as he played his way out of contention.

Mickelson only apologized if anyone was offended by an intentional effort to take the lazy, childish way out after hitting poor golf shots.

“At the time, I just didn’t feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over,” Mickelson said. “I took the two-shot penalty and moved on. It’s my understanding of the rules. I’ve had multiple times I‘ve wanted to do that. I just finally did.”

Pressed by reporters if he got away with a serious breach of etiquette at the very least, Mickelson issued a bold directive.

“Toughen up,” he said.

That’s right, a guy taking the easy way out of a bad putt is telling his detractors to toughen up.

An astonishing snub of honesty

Mickelson hit a horrendous putt on Shinnecock’s 13th green that began to trundle down a slope. The ball was headed off the green and onto a short grass area where he would have faced a difficult wedge shot just to hold the ball within 20 feet of the hole.

Instead, Mickelson made like Jesse Owens and in an astonishing snub of the dedication to honesty defining his legendary career, stopped a moving ball. The 48-year-old knew he was taking a two-stroke penalty instead of prolonging his play on the 13th where he ultimately recorded a 10.

The USGA committee, headed by John Bodenhammer, bought his on-course explanation and chalked his action up to Rule 14-5 for making a stroke at a moving ball.

The rule says very simply, “A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.”

Mickelson announced afterward that he made a stroke at his moving ball because he did not want to play the ball where it would eventually have come to rest.

“I could have maybe hit a shot and somehow made the putt,” he said. “I don’t know if it would have saved me a shot or not, but I might have saved my shot doing it the way I did it, too.”

Mickelson was eager to move along when things started to turn ridiculous.

Maybe he should toughen up.

“I could still be out there potentially,” Mickelson said. “I took two shots and moved on and got to the next hole.”

USGA chose not to invoke Rule 1-2

After hearing Mickelson’s explanation, the USGA chose not to invoke Rule 1-2 despite language that would appear to match Mickelson’s intent.

“A player must not (i) take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in playor (ii) alter physical conditions with the intent of affecting the playing of a hole.”

Mickelson took action with the goal of influencing the movement of a ball in play. The Rules of Golf include this stipulation, which will vanish into the great beyond in 2019:

“An action expressly permitted or expressly prohibited by another Rule is subject to that otherRule, not Rule 1-2. “

There’s some fine print for you.

Mickelson was saved by a generous reading of Rule 14-5. The committee let him skirt because he did indeed make stroke at a moving ball. But the rules — 1-2 to be precise — also say a player cannot intend to influence their ball, as Mickelson did. When the player announces to the world an intent to influence the ball, he’s at least guilty of a serious breach of etiquette, something former USGA executive director and Fox Sports rules analyst David Fay believed was the case.

Time, however, will not be kind to Mickelson’s manipulation of the rules or the USGA’s interpretation given the option to step back and declare his actions a breach of etiquette worthy of disqualification. Mickelson could have also taken that 30 minutes he spent in scoring, realized his peers will never respect him quite the same way again, and asked to be disqualified. Instead, he chuckled.

“I was laughing. I was having fun,” he said. “I enjoy the challenge of this because we don’t get to see it but once a year and sometimes it gets a little goofy sure. But it’s all within the rules.”

Mickelson enjoyed the challenge of bending the rules to skirt his mediocre play. He took the goofy way out of a bad shot. All within the rules. But what a breach of etiquette and trust.

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