Phil Mickelson stunned the golf world on Friday when he intentionally hit a ball that was already moving—a rule breach that carries a two-stroke penalty.
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Mickelson was in the third round of the U.S. Open and was already four over par when his frustrations got the best of him and earned him six over par for the 13th hole. The decision to hit a moving ball is almost unheard of and is considered disrespectful by some fans and commentators.
“I don’t mean disrespect by anybody…It’s certainly not meant [to show disrespect], it’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can,” Mickelson told Fox Sports after the round. “I don’t mean any disrespect and if that’s the way people took it, I apologize to them.”
Just hours earlier, fans at Shinnecock Hills in New York were singing “Happy Birthday” to Mickelson before he took to the course. Mickelson was already at plus-ten when he reached the 13th hole, where he spent significant time hitting the ball back and forth attempting to sink it.
“No question [the shot] was going to go down in the bunker…In that situation, I was just going back and forth and I would gladly take the two shots over continuing that display,” he said. “I know it’s a two-shot penalty and at that time I didn’t feel like going back and forth and the same shot over.”
The decision was unheard of, but Mickelson may have ended up even higher above par had he not hit the moving ball.
“I wasn’t going to have a shot and I don’t know if I would’ve been able to save the shot or what not but I know it’s a two-shot penalty hitting a moving ball. I tried to hit it as close to the hole as I could to make the next one,” he said. “I took the two-shot penalty and moved on.”
The two-shot penalty comes from rule 14-5 in the USGA Rulebook, which states that the player will receive two additional shots for making a stroke at the ball while it is moving. There are exceptions for situations where the ball begins to move before the player hits it again or if the ball falls off a tee, but Mickelson didn’t qualify for any of the exemptions.
John Daly was the last player to intentionally hit a moving ball at the U.S. Open in 1999. He earned the same two-shot penalty.
Mickelson may have also been in breach of rule 1-2 in the rulebook, stating that players cannot take an action “with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play” and carries a maximum penalty of disqualification. The USGA Rule Committee has the authority to decide whether or not Mickelson was in violation of rule 1-2 and it seems that they ruled he was in the clear, as Mickelson finished the tournament.
Mickelson finished the U.S. Open tied for 48th, at 16 over par, including multiple bogies in every round and the 10-shot 13th hole. The tournament was Mickelson’s 17th U.S. Open, where he has placed second six times but has never won. Despite the controversy, Mickelson said that he still enjoyed the open.
“I’ve had an awesome day. The people here have been incredible; singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ wishing me a happy birthday,” he said. “The people here have made coming here over the decades an awesome experience.”
Mickelson’s choice was the top news from the tournament, but Brooks Koepka took home the trophy.
Featured Image via: Flickr/TourProGolfClubs