With a few days to reflect on his infamous swipe at a moving ball Saturday at the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson issued an apology Wednesday, saying that he was “embarrassed and disappointed” by his act. However, to hear some other top golfers tell it, Mickelson has very little for which to apologize, and, in fact, they thought what he did was “funny.”
“Honestly, I laughed,” Rory McIlroy said Tuesday of his reaction upon learning of Mickelson’s putt. “Knowing Phil, he knew what he was doing, and as a player who has been in that head space before in a tournament, I can see it happening.”
McIlroy was among several competitors at this week’s Travelers Championship, in Cromwell, Conn., who were asked about Mickelson’s controversial decision to break one of golf’s basic rules. While Jason Day said it was “disappointing,” in part because the furor it caused wound up “overshadowing” Brooks Koepka’s second straight triumph, most expressed sympathy for the frustration Mickelson was feeling.
On his way to a round of 81 Saturday, Mickelson stunned Fox Sports’ announcing team and many viewers when he ran up to a ball he had putted past the hole on the 13th green and hit it back toward the hole before it stopped rolling. He was assessed a two-stroke penalty and took a 10 on the hole, then shot a 69 the next day and finished in a tie for 48th while more than a few observers felt he should have been disqualified by the USGA.
In the immediate aftermath of his round Saturday, Mickelson was far from contrite, saying he himself thought it was “funny” and adding, “If somebody is offended by that, I apologize to them, but toughen up.” The five-time major winner explained that he realized his initial putt was going to wind up well off the green and he “just didn’t feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over,” so he “took the two-shot penalty and moved on.”
“It’s my understanding of the rules,” Mickelson said at the time. “I’ve had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that. I just finally did.”
Wednesday, however, brought a different tone from him, as he released a statement in which he said, “I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend. I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions.
“It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”
“I laughed, I thought it was really funny,” Jordan Spieth said Tuesday, speaking to reporters at the Travelers. “Phil knows the rules. There was a chance it was going to go back behind the bunker and he’s got to chip back, or he was going to play off the green anyways, so he was potentially saving himself a shot. So if that was the intent, then what’s the harm in that? He’s playing the best score he can.”
Keegan Bradley agreed with those sentiments, saying, “Phil’s got some of the most integrity of anybody out here. I think what he did was funny.”
Striking a slightly different note was Graeme McDowell, who said, “I thought Phil could’ve handled it differently.” Speaking a day before Mickelson issued his apology, McDowell told media members, “I thought if he had just held his hands up and said, ‘Hey, I messed up’ — it was just a crazy moment of insanity — I think it would’ve went away. Watching it, it was just a moment of insanity.”
To McIlroy, Mickelson might have been more on edge than any other golfer Saturday, even with many driven to distraction by what they saw as unfair conditions created by the USGA, particularly in terms of the greens being too fast. McIlroy noted that the U.S. Open is “a tournament that Phil has come so close to winning over the past few years” and that “it’s frustrated him because it’s the only [major] he hasn’t won.”
“Plus, it’s probably becoming the hardest one to win for anyone because it is a bit of a lottery at times,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I don’t know if I’d go to the lengths he went to make a statement like that, but I felt there was a massive overreaction to it.”
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