Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Phil Mickelson and the Rules

When I finished writing my previous blog, less than two weeks ago, little did I imagine that I would be writing so soon about Phil Mickelson’s professed knowledge of the Rules of Golf. Let me remind you what he said at that time, during an interview with Curtis Strange on Fox Sports (which can be viewed at this link);

 “Look, I don’t mean, I don’t mean disrespect by anybody I know it’s a two-shot penalty. And 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.” [My bolding]
…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. And you take the two shots, and you move on.”

As many subscribers have reminded me, if Phil’s understanding of the Rules was as good as he claimed, he would almost certainly have been better off waiting for his ball to come to rest behind the bunker, then picking it up and replacing it on the putting green where he had just putted from, for a single penalty stroke, under Rule 28a or Rule 27-1. I have mentioned this option many times in previous blogs, including this one, titled ‘Stroke and Distance Penalty’.

Following another incident just two weeks later, on Sunday at The Greenbrier Classic, there is more evidence that perhaps Phil’s understanding of the Rules is not quite as good as he thinks. He made an elementary mistake that in my experience few amateur golfers would make, getting him a penalty of two strokes. The circumstance was that he had teed his ball on the 7th hole when he noticed that there were wisps of fescue on his intended line of play, which was going to be a low stinger. So he walked forward off the teeing area and trampled down the offending grasses. When he returned to his ball, something clicked and he said, presumably to his caddie and brother, Tim Mickelson;

“I’m not sure that what I just did is legal. ….. I’ll ask somebody.”

As was later confirmed to him by Robbie Ware, a course Rules official, his action was a breach of Rule 13-2. These are the relevant parts of that Rule;

A player must not improve or allow to be improved:
… his line of play or a reasonable extension of that line beyond the hole
… by any of the following actions:
… moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed
… creating or eliminating irregularities of surface,
… However, the player incurs no penalty if the action occurs:
… in creating or eliminating irregularities of surface within the teeing ground

When the official returned in the Rules car to confirm the penalty Phil asked him;

“Had I picked up my tee and moved it to the side where it didn’t affect the shot, I would have been OK?”

Robbie Ware's reply was incorrect;

“No problem, it’s just when it’s on … when it’s on your line of play.”

Phil cut in;

“I had that thought and thought why don’t I move it just in case … and I didn’t, so OK.”

Err no, they were both wrong! Once the original line of play had been improved Phil could not have avoided the penalty by moving his ball to another part of the teeing ground before making his stroke. It is Decision 13-2/14 that is relevant in this circumstance;

Q. On the teeing ground, a player broke off a branch of a tree which was interfering with his swing. The player maintained that such action was not a breach of Rule 13-2 because his ball was not yet in play. Was the player correct?

A. No. The player was in breach of Rule 13-2 for improving the area of his intended swing. Although Rule 13-2 allows a player to eliminate irregularities of surface on the teeing ground, it does not allow him to break a branch interfering with his swing. The penalty would apply even if the player, before playing his next stroke, re-teed elsewhere on the teeing ground - see Decision 13-2/24.

Note that had the fescue, or any other irregularity of surface, been within the teeing ground it could have been tapped down or removed, without penalty. The whole incident, including the confusing commentary by Brian Bateman and Robert (?) and the on-course dialogue between Phil Mickelson and Robbie Ware, can be viewed at this PGA Tour link. (Pay special attention to the commentators’ uninformed and confusing analysis!).

After this event, on its social media accounts, the PGA Tour tried to emphasise the positive by saying that this was another incidence of a player calling a penalty on himself. That is not quite how I saw it!

Unfortunately, this episode provided yet another example of TV golf commentators, who presumably make a good living from their chosen profession, continuing to embarrass themselves by not having a clue about the correct ruling for occurrences that are just slightly out of the ordinary. Surely, they have enough ‘off-air’ time that they could usefully spend brushing up their Rules knowledge. The mind boggles as to what it will be like next year when the new modernised Rules come into effect!

Returning to Phil Mickelson, who brought this spotlight on himself with his earlier claim that he knows the Rules, I am pleased to partly redress the balance by drawing readers’ attention to another interesting Rules incident from two years ago, when he did take advantage of a fairly obscure Rule on the par-5 18th hole of Torrey Pines North course. Click here for a short video of the situation (that follows the ad).

Good golfing,



Phil Mickelson features in other Rules incidents in my book, ‘Pros Getting it Wrong!’ that contains 99 articles on memorable Rules of Golf incidents, most of them relating to golfers competing in Professional Golf Tour events. Each of the wide ranging articles highlights a breach of a Rule of Golf with interesting nuggets of information, including explanations of the rulings, comments from the players and officials concerned, links to videos showing the circumstance of the breach and the consequences of the penalties imposed. Click here to purchase the eBook file from me, or if you prefer a paperback, it can be purchased from Amazon (a more expensive option).

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2018 and may not be copied without permission.

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