Once again, the USGA has diminished the U.S. Open due to its obsession with scoring.
Don’t believe that stuff about a four-way tie at the top.
The leader after three rounds? I.M. Setup.
On Father’s Day a year ago—and here’s to a happy one for all you dads out there—the golf world was talking about Justin Thomas shooting a third-round 63 at Erin Hills.
And USGA officials were gnashing their teeth.
They exacted their revenge in this year’s third round. A few of the pin positions, notably on No. 15, were so misplaced that USGA executive director Mike Davis offered his condolences—um, apologies.
Speaking of unfair, no less a bastion of the game than Phil Mickelson got so disgusted with the 13th green that he played “Happy Gilmore,’’ hitting his moving ball with a slapshot before his 18-foot putt could roll and roll down the hill and off the green.
Mickelson made a 10 on the hole, including a two-stroke penalty for striking a moving ball.
“Look, I don’t mean disrespect to anybody,’’ he said after shooting an 11-over 81, the highest score he has ever posted in an illustrious U.S. Open career that includes a record six runner-up finishes. “I know it’s a two-shot penalty. 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 it.”
Leave it to Phil to put the focus where it needs to be, on another lame U.S. Open setup, but come up with a neat tap-dance that makes it sound like he was engaged in some bizarre strategic maneuver—rather than staging a protest.
As former USGA exec David Fay pointed out, Mickelson could have taken an unplayable-lie penalty and replayed the putt that was headed for Long Island Sound—and only cost himself one stroke.
For emphasis, Mickelson rapped a putt past the cup on the next hole and watched it catch the back slope to trickle back down to the cup.
That’s a move often used during the Par-3 contest at the Masters. It’s also great strategy at the Himalayas, the delightful putting course adjacent to the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Except that that’s for fun. This is supposed to be for the national championship.
“Are we on the edge?’’ a reporter from Britain’s Sky TV asked two-time major winner Zach Johnson, who, like Mickelson, is a great ambassador for the game of golf.
“No, we’re not on the edge. We’ve surpassed it,’’ Johnson said. “It’s pretty much gone. Which is unfortunate. Shinnecock Hills is one of the best venues in this country. Unfortunately, they’ve lost the golf course.’’
I’m with Phil and Zach. This is another needlessly frustrating U.S. Open.
Maybe we should give the USGA credit. It took until the third round for the setup controversy to rear its ugly head this year.
They’ll crown a U.S. Open champion today. And when they do, this setup haranguing will be largely forgotten.
But this is a big reason why, in my book, America’s national championship is not in the same league with the Masters and the British Open. American golf deserves better.