Disqualification. In a word, that’s what should have happened to Phil Mickelson on Saturday, following one of the most bizarre moments in the history of professional golf. Lefty will be remembered for his five Majors, his six runner-up spots in the US Open, and his incredible short game, but his antics on Saturday at Shinnecock have tarnished his legacy.
“I took the two-shot penalty and moved on,” he said. “It’s my understanding of the rules. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that. I just finally did.”
Not only did he break the rules by striking a moving ball he did so to gain an advantage, knowing that he would incur a two-shot penalty.
That in itself is against the rules and it is also contrary to the spirit of the game. Every media channel was awash with opinions and as popular as Phil is, the overwhelming response was one of shock and disappointment that a man of his talent and stature would resort to such a tactic.
When you consider how many professionals have been disqualified over the years simply for signing an incorrect scorecard, the mind boggles at the decision of the USGA not to disqualify Mickelson.
Issues with rules and disqualifications stretch back decades and history is littered with penalties that should have been applied, which later resulted in disqualification because an incorrect scorecard was signed. Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Nick Price… many of the biggest names in the game have come unstuck by the rules and their consequences.
Sergio Garcia obviously wasn’t paying attention during the third round of the 2007 PGA Championship, when Boo Weekly recorded Garcia’s score on the 17th as a four when it should have been a five.
Garcia signed the card and was subsequently disqualified. He was well out of contention at that stage but it was a silly mistake to make… and a reminder to golfers everywhere that checking your scorecard thoroughly is an essential part of any competition.
It’s not often that two golfers get disqualified at once but that’s what happened at the 2003 Open Championship, at Royal St George’s. Mark Roe and Jesper Parnevik played together in the third round and recorded every score correctly. They signed their cards at the end of the round and Roe’s 67 meant he was in third place entering the final day, set to play alongside Tiger Woods.
Only it wasn’t to be: the two men had not exchanged cards at the beginning of the round and therefore ended up signing the wrong cards. The Rules officials wouldn’t budge despite the outcry over such an error and the game’s archaic scoring traditions remained intact.
If disqualifying two golfers at once is rare, then how about six? In the 1940 US Open, six golfers were disqualified at the same time in the final round. American Ed Oliver had shot a 71 to record the same lowest score as Lawson Little and Gene Sarazen, but his chances of competing in the play-off were dashed when he was disqualified instead.
He and five others had started their final round ahead of schedule because a storm was brewing. A marshal told them not to tee off before their scheduled time but they ignored him and suffered the consequences.
Pádraig Harrington also finds himself on this list. Once famous for coming second time after time, he was set to go into the final round of the 2000 Benson & Hedges International Open, five shots in the lead.
But half an hour before his final day tee time he was told that his first round scorecard had been signed twice… only neither signature was his. He was therefore disqualified.
It is not Pádraig’s only fatal brush with the rules and the second incident raised the profile of the ‘TV Rules Mafia’ — couch potatoes who became a nuisance for several years until governing bodies agreed that their so-called vigilance was more of a hindrance than a help.
(Remember the Lexi Thompson incident that cost her the 2017 ANA Inspiration tournament?)
The year was 2011, and Pádraig was preparing to putt on the 7th hole in the HSBC Championship, in Abu Dhabi.
When he removed the ball marker he nudged the ball and it rolled forward a fraction. It then rolled back to what Harrington believed was the original position and he carried on with his round, finishing on seven under. Someone watching at home, however, reported the incident to the R&A, claiming that there was a rules violation.
The R&A investigated the following day and it turned out that the ball had not returned exactly to its original position and that Pádraig should then have been penalised two shots under Rule 20-3a. And because it wasn’t penalised at the time it meant that Pádraig signed for an incorrect scorecard… and that meant disqualification.
The Rules Official, Andy McFee, who had to inform Pádraig of his disqualification was the same official who had to disqualify the Dubliner back in 2000.
And then there’s Roberto de Vicenzo’s mistake in the 1968 Masters. It is probably the most famous Major calamity of all time, even if it didn’t result in disqualification. By signing for a 66 on the final day, instead of a 65, de Vincenzo forfeited the chance to enter a play-off against Bob Goalby. Tommy Aaron had recorded a four for de Vicenzo on the 17th hole instead of a three and de Vincenzo failed to check the card before signing it. The officials said that the incorrect score of 66 would stand which meant de Vicenzo came second. If de Vicenzo had scored 66 but signed for a 65 (i.e. the reverse of what happened) he would have been disqualified.
“What a stupid I am,” de Vincenzo quipped afterwards.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved