SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (AP) – After intentionally hitting a moving putt on the 13th green Saturday, Phil Mickelson asked the USGA if he should withdraw from the U.S. Open.
His bogey putt from above the hole ran by the cup and was headed down a slope when he trotted over and swatted it back toward the hole with the ball still in motion. He was assessed a 2-stroke penalty, scored a 10 on the hole – the highest number anyone has managed in this tournament – and wound up shooting 81.
Later, after acknowledging he was using Rule 14-5 to his advantage, Mickelson called USGA officials to ask if he needed to drop out.
“Phil really did want to understand how the rule operates because he didn’t want to – frankly, as he said to me: ‘I don’t want to play in this championship if I should have been disqualified,'” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s chief executive.
“That’s where we clarified that, ‘Phil, you actually made a stroke at a moving ball, and so we have to apply that rule.’
“That’s different than if he had deliberately just stopped the ball or whacked it in another direction or something like that. So it’s just, it’s us applying the rules.”
Whether he ever wins a U.S. Open – and that prospect is increasingly bleak at age 48 – Mickelson will be remembered for what happened on the 13th green.
Call it the Mickelson Meltdown.
“Sometimes it gets a little goofy, sure,” he said, “but it’s all within the rules.”
Mickelson’s shocking display in the third round stunned playing partner Andrew Johnston, who called it “a moment of madness.”
“I’ve had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that,” Mickelson said, explaining he preferred the 2-stroke penalty to having to play the ball from off the green. “I just finally did.”
Saturday was Mickelson’s 48th birthday, and there were good vibes everywhere early in his round. He was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” at nearly every green, and even after four consecutive bogeys the fans were supportive.
“People here have been awesome, they made my birthday special,” he said.
Then came No. 13, where nothing was special – just outrageous.
Mickelson jogged after the ball after it curled around the hole, realizing it was about to head down the other side of the green. His swat sent the ball off the hole.
He then two-putted for 10, with the penalty.
“I’ve wanted to do that many times. I should have done it several times at Augusta on 15,” he said.
As he walked off the green, he could be seen smiling and talking to Johnston, who also was smiling.
“I said, ‘That is one of the strangest things I have ever seen’ and started laughing, and said ‘sorry’ about laughing,” said Johnston, a jovial Englishman with the nickname Beef. “He just laughed at me, he had no words to say. We just laughed.
“It’s something you might see at your club with your mates. It was strange, no one ever has those thoughts, it just happens.”
Mickelson’s actions were reminiscent of John Daly hitting a moving ball at Pinehurst No. 2 in the 1999 U.S. Open. Daly was on No. 8 in the final round when he took an 11 on the hole and signed for an 81. He then said: “This is my last U.S. Open – ever. I’ve had it with the USGA and the way they run their tournaments.”
He was back the next year at Pebble Beach, where he pumped three shots into the Pacific Ocean on the famed 18th and hit another shot into someone’s backyard. That made for a 14, a total of 83 in the first round, and a withdrawal.
Another player who let things get to him was Kirk Triplett in 1998 at Olympic Club. On the 18th hole in the second round, Triplett stuck his putter in the ground as a backstop when his ball was headed back down from the hole.
Mickelson, who has been a U.S. Open runner-up six times, most recently in 2013, was having a miserable time Saturday before reaching 13. He had those four consecutive bogeys before a par at the 12th. After three more pars following the meltdown, he bogeyed 17, then parred 18.
Asked if people would find his actions on No. 13 disrespectful, Mickelson said: “It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can. In that situation, I was just going back and forth. I would gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”
As for walking off the green chuckling, he insisted: “How can you not laugh? It’s funny.”
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson, AP Sports Columnist Tim Dahlberg and AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.