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US Open (golf)

US Open ‘moment of madness’: Phil Mickelson hits moving ball with putter to score sextuple bogey

American says the incident was not a childish display of frustration as he preferred taking the two-shot penalty at a brutal Shinnecock Hills course

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2018, 10:32am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2018, 10:32am

Phil Mickelson insisted he meant no disrespect when he opted to putt a moving ball in the third round of the US Open – swallowing a sextuple bogey at the 13th hole.

Mickelson’s bogey putt at Shinnecock Hills’ par-four 13th skated past the cup and was heading down a slope when he trotted after it and batted it back towards the hole with his putter.

He needed eight strokes to get the ball in the hole and with a two-stroke penalty walked off with a sextuple bogey 10 on the way to his highest ever round in 27 US Open appearances of 11-over 81.

Playing partner Andrew Johnston called it “a moment of madness”.

But Mickelson said the incident was not a childish display of frustration from a five-time major champion celebrating his 48th birthday.

Instead, he said, he decided the two-stroke penalty he knew he would receive would be preferable to letting the ball escape off the green.

“Look, I don’t mean disrespect to anybody,” he said. “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.

“It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can. In that situation, I was just going back and forth. I would gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”

It’s another chapter in the saga of Mickelson at the US Open – the only major tournament missing from Mickelson’s resume and one in which he has finished runner-up six times.

John Bodenhamer of the US Golf Association said Mickelson was penalised two strokes for violating rule 14-5 by “making a stroke at a moving ball”.

Bodenhamer said USGA rules officials “quickly” decided that Mickelson’s action was covered by that rule, and said the committee did not consider Mickelson’s actions to be covered by the rule stating “a player must not take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play” – which can result in disqualification.

As that decision sparked comment on social media, Bodenhamer said after the round that Mickelson had reached out to USGA chief executive Mike Davis “to just have a better understanding of what our decision was”.

Davis said Mickelson said to him “Mike, I don’t want to play in this championship if I should have been disqualified.

“That’s where we clarified,” Davis said, telling Mickelson he “made a stroke at a moving ball, and so we have to apply that rule”.

Mickelson’s day had been a slog until the 13th, with five bogeys following his lone birdie at the fourth hole. He added one more bogey at the 17th and had a 17-over par total of 227.

Despite Mickelson’s explanation, Johnston’s first impression was that frustration got the better of him.

“I think it’s just one of the moments where you’re not thinking about it. It just happens,” Johnston said.

“It’s something you might see at your home course with your mates or something.”

The affair recalled a similar incident at the 1999 US Open at Pinehurst, where a frustrated John Daly hit a moving ball in the final round.

But Daly was famed for his erratic behaviour, while Mickelson has cultivated a good-guy image for nearly 30 years.

“I hope it doesn’t damage his reputation too badly,” said Paul Azinger, a former US Ryder Cup captain commentating for Fox television. “But he is going to take it on the chin for this one.”

Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson surrendered a four-shot lead in his first six holes and finished the day in a four-way tie as Shinnecock Hills battered the world’s best golfers on Saturday.

World number one Johnson closed with a bogey at the par-four 18th in a seven-over par 77 that left him tied atop the leader board at three-over 213 with Daniel Berger, Tony Finau and defending champion Brooks Koepka.