Martin Dempster: Phil Mickelson’s US Open behaviour was despicable

Phil Mickelson throws his ball into the crowd after sinking his putt on the 13th hole during the final round of the US Open. Picture: Frank Franklin II/AP
Phil Mickelson throws his ball into the crowd after sinking his putt on the 13th hole during the final round of the US Open. Picture: Frank Franklin II/AP
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June 16, 2018. Mark it down as one of golf’s darkest days. The day the United
States Golf Association (USGA) mucked up again. The day Phil Mickelson also lost all respect. Really, why does golf have this dreadful habit of shooting itself in the foot every now and again?

No-one, of course, should be surprised about the USGA screwing up once more with the second men’s major of the season and I will get to that. It’s Mickelson, though, who is going to get my first volley of criticism as the dust settles on the 118th US Open at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.

Like many others I’d imagine, I still can’t really believe the American, such a popular figure in the game with fans in particular, admitted he’d deliberately hit a moving ball in Saturday’s third round to gain an advantage – a badly overhit putt was about to roll off the green at the 13th hole – and every replay of that astonishing episode has made my blood boil.

It might have been different if it had been a moment of madness caused by a rush of blood to the head. It wasn’t, though. Mickelson knew exactly what he was doing and actually revealed it had been something he’d been on the verge of carrying out in the past.

His breach of rule 14-5 incurred a two-shot penalty, yet can anyone seriously disagree that disqualification can be the only punishment for what Mickelson did? Rule 1-2 offers that option for a “serious breach” and this sorry affair was most 
certainly that.

That Mickelson himself didn’t offer to withdraw was a disgrace and his behaviour in the final round, raising his arms in mock 
triumph after holing a putt on the 13th green on this occasion, was one of the most disgusting acts the game has ever witnessed.

Unlike many, I was prepared to give Mickelson the benefit of doubt – and I really wish I hadn’t now – when he chose a packed press conference to publically slaughter his captain, Tom Watson, after the US lost the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, but this really is a step too far.

He was disrespectful to his fellow
players. He was disrespectful to the game. He should have been remorseful on Sunday instead of appearing to stick two fingers up to everyone else. He behaved as though he didn’t care what anyone else thinks and that really is unacceptable.

Just imagine what a joke it would be if every player, both in the 
amateur and professional games, set out from now on with Mickelson’s mentality of trying to save the odd shot here or there if a ball was heading towards either a bunker or a hazard. It would make golf a laughing stock, which is why Mickelson has a responsibility to admit, having had time to reflect, that he was out of order.

The episode, of course, probably wouldn’t have happened if those bungling buffoons at the USGA hadn’t cocked up the course set-up on Saturday, when a number of pin positions were simply ridiculous in conditions that were hard and fast. The consequence, I’m afraid, was unwatchable golf. Yes, I get that some people seem to take perverse enjoyment out of seeing the game’s top players finding things way more difficult than they are used to on a week-to-week basis, but no way is it good for the game as a spectacle to a worldwide audience for good shots to be severely punished, as was the case here. In getting it badly wrong, the USGA effectively ruined this event because, inevitably on the back of being heavily criticised, the proposed set up for Sunday’s final round was altered to allow for scoring to be a lot easier and, overall, it simply wasn’t a satisfactory job 
by Mike Davis and his team for a tournament of this stature. This simply can’t keep happening because it really is detrimental to the game, both in terms of making it a spectacle that excites and energises those who already play and watch golf and also attracting newcomers to the sport.

The World Cup in Russia is a stage for the world’s top footballers to show off their skills to a global audience and Cristiano Ronaldo, in particular, wasted no time grabbing that opportunity. Yet, the day after he lit up that stage with a hat-trick against Spain, his counterparts in the golfing world were being made to look foolish due to someone being incompetent.

Yes, June 16, 2018, truly was one of golf’s darkest days and, not for the first time in recent years, it’s over to the R&A to try to ensure the sport is displayed in its true glory when Carnoustie stages the 147th Open Championship next month.