Should Phil Mickelson have been disqualified at the U.S. Open?


Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

What was your overall impression of the 118th U.S. Open? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): To be honest, I’m getting kinda tired of the constant controversy that seems to swirl around the US Open… to the point that I really only care about The Masters and The [British] Open Championship.  I give the USGA credit for trying to separate its Open from all the other boring US parkland events, but over the last few years, it seems like there’s always a problem cropping up… courses too hard, courses too silly, players complaining, DJ loses because he grounded his club in a bunker that wasn’t a bunker, Phil running after and whacking a moving ball…  Enough already!

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: I enjoyed it! However, when a course is as good as Shinnecock, I don’t understand why the USGA has to make so many changes. I also don’t understand how they get pin locations wrong when they have a lead-up to the event of about 10 years to observe all kinds of weather, green speeds and undulations. I also don’t understand why they don’t factor in the possibility of unusual circumstances like a change in the wind which could dry out the greens.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I thought it was a great US Open. Shinnecock Hills was tough as nails; the winning score was above par; a number of high-profile players missed the cut; Phil cheated; the No. 1 player in the world got out to a 36-hole lead and then lost it in the blink of an eye on Moving Day; and we saw the first successful defence of a U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange did it in 1988-89. What more could you ask for?!

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Overall, I enjoyed the tournament and thought the course showed itself very well.  It is a shame that Mike Davis feels the need to be part of the story each year, but we’ll leave that diatribe for the next question!  It was an exciting Sunday with a course that allowed some birdies and resulted in a great back to back champ!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Same as every year — the utter incompetence of the USGA. As Ian Poulter sagely pointed out, “You don’t get mulligans in business at this level. How can this team keep doing this without consequences?” Indeed, how can there be no consequences for serial ineptitude? With FOX and the USGA in full flight, thankfully the World Cup provided an enjoyable alternative.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): It was spectacular! Shinnecock Hills should be part of a very small rota of U.S. Open courses. It demanded everything from the players and afforded them very little margin for error. It also required them to think considerably more than most courses they play week in and week out. The set-up wasn’t perfect as noted below but it did provide for lots of drama and delivered an appropriate test to all participants. And a deserving winner.

The USGA seems incapable of hosting a U.S. Open without injecting themselves into the storyline. Most players feel like the set-up at Shinnecock Hill was tough but fair for the most part although some pin placements on Saturday were beyond reasonable, which resulted in an apology from Executive Director Mike Davis. Does the USGA try too hard to push courses to extremes?

Deeks: Yes, I think so, absolutely.  As one of the pro’s said over the weekend, “I think the USGA thinks we’re a lot better players than we really are.”  I think all of us serious spectators would agree that the US Open should be the best challenge of the US season, but no one wants to see players embarrassed or… um… running after a moving ball and stopping it before it rolls 40 yards back down the fairway.  Set up a course where -6 wins after four days, and where most of the best players make the cut.  No disrespect to Brooks Koepka, but a lot of great players literally bounced out of this Open.

Schurman: The USGA can make a disaster out of a winning lottery ticket! Worse than that is the example they set for every Green Chair in the world who believes a course should have greens stimping at 13, pins within six feet of a ‘roll-off’ and 500+ yd par fours. After a while, one wonders if we wouldn’t be better off without their kind of leadership. The British Open doesn’t seem to have these constant problems conjured up through a silly belief the winning score should be controlled at even par. In fact, Mike Davis is one of highest profile people in golf. He is always on TV or starring in a written article. Can anyone name the CEO of the R&A or the PGA TOUR? For his bluster, the game has some serious issues and I think he is steering the USGA and golf through a field of icebergs in a formula one car driven straight ahead but at a snail’s pace.

Kaplan: I have been quite hard on the USGA in the past, but I really don’t think they have anything to apologize for this week other than botching the Phil Mickelson decision on Saturday — and that did not even remotely affect the outcome of the tournament. The U.S. Open is supposed to be golf’s ultimate test and I thought the USGA and Shinnecock Hills delivered with the set-ups on all four days. Were a few of the flags in ridiculous places on Saturday? Yes. Is that unprecedented on a Moving Day at the U.S. Open? Certainly not! I like that the USGA gives us fans one tournament every year where we can watch the best players in the world go out there and struggle like the rest of us. Watching players make strings of birdies on courses tailored to their strengths is boring. Watching them try to endure one of the hardest golf courses on earth in blustery conditions is not.

Rule: It is a shame that Mike Davis seems to be a big part of the story at every US Open.  For the most part the course was fair, with relatively wide fairways and greens that were playable, although there were certainly a couple of questionable pins on Saturday.  I get that they want to protect the score and it should be a tough set up, but they walk a fine line and often cross over to the wrong side of that line.

Quinn: Classic example is Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 US Open. It’s a Trent Jones Jr. layout so it is unplayable by superb and inept players alike – sadly he has been allowed to repeat this singular approach all over the world. That was a very bad course, purpose built for the championship but unsuitable in every respect (including gallery viewing and movement!!!! How was that accomplished?). In this case, the deep thinkers at the USGA took one of America’s best layouts and manipulated it masterfully and tirelessly to make it unplayable. That took some doing, especially after they’d also wrecked Shinnecock in 2004. It’s not over-effort, it’s incompetence.

Mumford: Absolutely! Shinnecock Hills was another example of the USGA thinking they’re smarter than everyone else. The course is tough enough without pushing the envelope. The greens were silly fast and some of the pin positions were unfair. The superintendent probably could have told them that 13 and 15 on Saturday were stupid if the wind blew from a certain direction. Maybe he did, and they just didn’t listen. Some of the greens were an automatic three-putt if you were above the hole. That’s not right. These guys are good but from over 200 yards to a rock hard green with the wind blowing, nobody is accurate enough or lucky enough to keep their approach below the hole all the time. Does the USGA think it’s their job to embarrass the best in the world? Championship golf is like any other sport – always better when you don’t notice the refs and the outcome is left up to the players. The USGA should take note.

On Saturday Phil Mickelson intentionally hit a moving ball, which resulted in a two-stroke penalty. Lefty tried to spin his actions in a number of ways but many felt that he should have been disqualified. Did the USGA get this right or did Phil’s actions warrant a harsher penalty?

Deeks: I lost a lot of respect for Phil on that one.  It was a clear transgression of the overall principle that you’ll play within the rules (not that I’m much of a fan of the rules.)  I think he should have been disqualified.  What’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing when his putt on the 9th hole at Augusta starts picking up speed and heading back down the fairway. Or for that matter, my opponent in the Wednesday League at my club?  Is this golf, or polo?  I think the USGA should admit its mistake, and along with the R&A, declare SOON that a similar action will result in automatic disqualification… in any tournament, anywhere.

Schurman: I am NOT a Phil fan even though he is one of the finest players of all-time! His ‘thumbs up’ rapport with the gallery is in Arnold’s image. His zest for life is reminiscent of Trevino. He analyzes courses like Hogan and Nicklaus. His swing is as smooth as Snead’s. On one hand he is Huck Finn and The Hardy Boys in one. On the other he lives on the edge with a vigilant effort to outsmart everyone else. He came within a blink of an eye of being indicted for insider trading. The PGA TOUR turned away from his massive gambling habits. (remember Pete Rose) and now his actions on Sunday are consistent with those of John Daly. One point that everyone has overlooked is his conversation with Lee Westwood when he admitted that he had been “thinking about doing this for some time”. That makes his act premeditated. It was not frustration or in the heat of the moment; it was deliberate attempt to affect the outcome of a shot. His purpose was to draw attention to the USGA for a poor course set-up. Regardless of his motivation he deliberately caused a change in the outcome of the tournament score. The PGA TOUR has a rule that states “A player must make every effort to perform at their highest level” and, in fact, suspended Daly for breaking that rule. Phil should have W/D’d when the USGA failed to DQ him. IMO this is right up there with moving rocks that are immovable obstructions and taking illegal drops for water hazards. The only question I have for Phil is “If you knew you were going to interfere with a moving ball prior to hitting it, why didn’t you deflect it a bit sooner and guide it into the hole. If you going to make a mockery of the rules, why not gain some real benefit?”

Kaplan: The USGA botched it for sure. Applying Rule 14-5 in that situation – instead of Rule 1-2 – was a stretch to say the least, and you almost have to wonder if television ratings and Phil’s star power might have played a role in how the organization chose to handle the situation. Phil cheated, plain and simple. He should have been DQ’d.

Rule: He should have been disqualified, end of story.  It was an intentional act and by the rules, that calls for a DQ. Too bad the USGA didn’t have the cojones to DQ the all-American boy chasing the career Grand Slam.  If it was anyone else, they probably would have shown him the door.  Phil knows the rules better than anyone and knows he could have taken an unplayable but he wanted to send a message and well, it got the attention he wanted!

Quinn: I was so disgusted by the course by the time Phil reached the 13th that I laughed and cheered his running putt – which he almost sank; it was a hell of an effort. No matter what he said later – or how many times Paul Azinger changed his mind as he nattered on and on and – my initial view was that he’d made the loudest and most eloquent ‘FU’ to the USGA possible, and it was totally justified. All the things that Curtis Strange and later Azinger and the rest accused Phil of committing – disrespect for the game and the event etc – the USGA had already done with real consequences by their setup, mowing, pin placements and utter disregard for their own weather forecasts. If Phil was DQ’d, the entire USGA Tournament Committee would have had to be DQ’d too.

Mumford: When someone intentionally breaks the rules to gain an advantage, that’s cheating. And the only appropriate penalty for cheating is disqualification. If this were a regular PGA Tour event, I would have gone even further and tacked on a three-month suspension. Another black eye for the USGA too. Would the penalty have been the same if it was some no-name pro or another amateur like Guan Tianlang?

FOX Sports is in Year 4 of a long-term contract to broadcast USGA events including the U.S. Open. What’s your take on their presentation?

Deeks: I thought Sunday’s coverage was excellent.  Joe Buck was fine as anchor, Paul Azinger is a good analyst, and Curtis Strange was used to better advantage on the golf course than in the booth.  I was somewhat dumbstruck by whoever the Irish guy was doing the interviews, but he had a nice accent.  All in all, I preferred watching this event on Fox than if it had been done by CBS (zzzzz) or NBC (zzzzzz).

Schurman: Curtis has finally learned how to speak better English, but his insights are above reproach. Faxon improves with every opportunity. Azinger is one my favorites! FOX is terrible at researching background stories. They don’t seem to be able to tie the players into the event. Everything feels like a stand alone subject. The players are individuals but not related to the US Open. Shinnecock is a great course but is not part of the world golf scene. The result is a discombobulated, rambling, off topic series of camera shots that bounce around the course without a purpose. Joe Buck – great voice and way more enjoyable than Brent Musburger, another non-golfer.

Kaplan: Fox is an embarrassment. Not only did the audio inexplicably cut out for an extended period on Friday afternoon, but viewers who watched this year’s broadcast were treated to bonus audio coverage of two nitwits recounting bizarre sex escapades in cringe-worthy detail. Plus, Joe Buck is just the worst. It takes a special type of awful to make me long for Nick Faldo’s play-by-play. However, Fox does use a lot of live shot tracing in their coverage, so they do get some marks for that. Overall grade: Needs Improvement

Rule: They have improved, let’s give them that.  I am a big Paul Azinger fan, and Curtis Strange is a good addition. Joe Buck is still a baseball guy to me, but he handled the job well enough.  They are still a long way from matching the production and presentation of the traditional golf networks, but at least they are moving in the right direction.

Quinn: Few thought it possible, but Azinger makes Johnny Miller seem restrained and Curtis Strange almost tolerable. Greg Norman was let go by FOX reportedly for being too easy on the USGA over the Chambers Bay debacle. So, what of Azinger’s pimping the USGA all weekend in the face of the 4K evidence on his monitor and the comments of the best players in the world? It was a shameless and gutless performance by the USGA’s lead sycophant. As to the sappy and tiresome repetitions of the old cliché by him and Strange and others that “they all play the same course,” well they clearly don’t. Morning and afternoon were two different courses, gentlemen. Joe Buck sounds like he’s hyped to call an NFL or WWE show, and despite all the high-tech stuff to purportedly enhance the viewing, it’s abundantly clear that the FOX camera folks don’t cover much golf. Too bad FOX and Friends signed that long deal. Zing the Shill will be too much with us for quite a while.

Mumford: Brad Faxon is amazingly, wonderfully, magnificently stupendous in the role of “announcer who can’t stop gushing too much.” And Joe Buck would make a pretty good baseball announcer. Overall the show lacks a proper flow. It seemed to jump around too much and linger on players who weren’t doing anything, then jump too fleetingly to someone who was. Paul Azinger adds occasional witty remarks but his annoying flag waving, American good ole boy shtick played better when he was paired with Nick Faldo. Curtis Strange provides excellent on-course reporting and goff analysis. It’s way better than the first show at Chambers Bay but still needs work.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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