Last night, Brooks Koepka, repeated his 2017 US Open victory by retaining the title over four punishing days at the Shinnecock Hills course in New York after narrowly beating England’s Tommy Fleetwood by a single shot.
The US Open is often billed as the hardest test in golf with organisers renowned for setting their respective courses to be as challenging as possible. Indeed event organisers faced so much criticism for the course setup on Saturday this year that they were forced to apologise given similar events the last time the same course hosted the event in 2004.
However, the state of the course was only one of several controversies from the weekend’s play.
Five time major winner Phil Mickelson also received his fair share of criticism after deliberately hitting his moving ball before carding an unheard of 10 on the par 4, 13th hole during Saturday’s third round.
Mickelson had bogeyed the previous four holes in what was turning into a horror round for the leftie who was looking to complete a career grand slam having been runner-up in the event a record six times.
Having missed his putt, the ball started to trickle back towards the bunker on the 13th green at which point Mickelson jogged round and hit it back at the hole (he missed that as well…). As a result Mickelson incurred an automatic two shot penalty pursuant to Rule 14-5 of the Rules of Golf which states:
“A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.”
When asked about what happened after finishing his round Mickelson acknowledged that he knew what he was doing, that he would incur a two shot penalty and that this was preferable to having to play a rescue shot which may produce an even worse outcome.
After the round, many commentators were shocked, not only at Mickelson’s behaviour but also his admission that he was effectively using the rules to his advantage.
Some suggested Mickelson should have been disqualified by pointing to Rule 1-2 that states:
“A player must not (i) take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play or (ii) alter physical conditions with the intent of affecting the playing of a hole.”
The penalty for a “serious breach” of this rule allows the Competition Committee to disqualify the offending party. Others pointed to the exceptions to Rule 1-2 which specifically states that:
This, they said, meant the offence had to be dealt with under Rule 14-5 and not Rule 1-2 and therefore disqualification was not an option.
Whilst this may be the case, those who argued against the possibility of disqualification, perhaps overlooked the catch all provisions within Rule 33-7 that states:
“A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.
Any penalty less than disqualification must not be waived or modified.
If a Committee considers that a player is guilty of a serious breach of etiquette, it may impose a penalty of disqualification under this Rule.”
In the circumstances, it is clear that Competition Committee’s hold a wide discretion to disqualify anyone they consider to be guilty of a “serious breach of etiquette.”
By failing to disqualify Mickelson it could be argued that an unwanted precedent has been set which would encourage others to act in a similar way should they consider a two shot penalty to be preferable to re-playing a harder shot.
In the circumstances, it would no doubt be helpful for those in charge of the Rules to clarify their interpretation of the relevant provisions and what penalty they feel should be imposed for such similar rules transgression.