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

If you weren’t already aware that this was how Phil Mickelson explained his decision to deliberately hit a moving ball in the third round of the US Open, you could be forgiven for thinking these words belonged to a pubescent teenager.

The entitlement, the petulance, the selfishness, the bravado, the arrogance, the (not-for-the-first-time) apparent problem with authority, the blatant disregard for the rules of the game, the spirit of the game, his fellow players.

Yesterday wasn’t just the he turned 48. It was the day Phil Mickelson did potentially untold damage to his carefully crafted reputation.

And the worst thing about it? He doesn’t appear to care. 

“I’ve had an awesome day,” he added, somewhat bizarrely. “The people here have been incredible, singing happy birthday, wishing me happy birthday.”

In other words: I had my fun and that’s all that matters.

Look, I get it. The course was tough yesterday. Too tough.

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But what Phil did is no way to make a point. He showed an egregious contempt for the game, for its values and for its etiquette. 

Everybody else in the field managed to complete their rounds without spitting the dummy. Phil didn’t just spit it. He launched it into orbit with a middle-figure salute. 

The USGA could have disqualified him by invoking rule 33-7. It gives a committee the right to disqualify a player “for a single act that it considers to be a serious breach of etiquette”. 

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Don’t know about you but, to me, intentionally breaking a rule and admitting to it on national television afterwards pretty well constitutes “a serious breach of etiquette”.

Not in the eyes of the USGA, who instead assessed him a two-shot penalty under rule 14-5.

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John Bodenhamer, the Managing Director of Championships and Governance, explained that rule 33-7 was considered but disregarded. “It’s used in extreme circumstances,” he said. Mike Davis, the USGA’s CEO, added it “wouldn’t be appropriate in this case”.

Again, don’t know about you but, to me, this is a classic case of heads being buried in the sand. It’s hypothetical, I know, but one wonders how this incident might have been adjudicated upon had a different (read: lower profile) player been culpable and had the USGA not already been fighting fires on another significant front. 

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Another point: I have seen many describe this as an act of cheating on Phil’s part. I think that’s a rather reductive way of looking at it. Cheating implies something malicious, intended to deceive, in order to gain an unpunished advantage. A footballer diving? That’s cheating. They’re attempting to con the referee into believing they have been fouled when, in fact, they’ve not.

What Phil did and the way in which he did it was so unbelievably blatant that there’s no way he could have thought he’d escape punishment. 

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Again, to use a football comparison, it’s a bit like a defender pulling down a striker who is running through on goal and almost certain to score. Nobody calls that cheating. Instead, they call it a ‘professional foul’ and applaud the self-sacrifice. The player takes the red card because that’s better, in that moment, than the alternative. It’s breaking a rule intentionally and it’s against the spirit of the game. But it’s not necessarily cheating.

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For example, how can you compare what Phil did – knowing full well there would be consequences – to a player surreptitiously attempting to improve their lie in the rough, or replacing their ball improperly? One is designed to deceive without consequences; the other to take the lesser of two punishments. There’s a difference. A subtle difference, but a difference all the same.

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So, no, I don’t believe Phil cheated but I do believe he should have been disqualified under rule 33-7. The USGA ducked out and hid behind a technicality. Shame on them for that and shame on Phil for doing what he did.

He has, though, a chance to redeem himself somewhat by doing one of two things: voluntarily withdrawing from the championship ahead of today’s final round or by donating his winnings to charity.

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The former would be a more significant integrity move. Not only would he be waiving his right to a cheque, he’d also be passing on the FedEx Cup and world rankings points he is set to earn.

He is due to tee off just before 3pm in the company of Rickie Fowler.

Over to you, Phil. 

That Phil Mickelson incident – your thoughts

What was your take on what Phil Mickelson did yesterday? Should he have been DQ’d? Should he withdraw? Was the punishment fair and correct?

Leave your thoughts in our Comments section below.

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Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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