Phil Mickelson penalized (again!): Improved his line of play in The Greenbrier

Hi all!

Phil Mickelson was criticized a lot after his recent stroke to his moving ball in U.S. Open.

Surprisingly enough he was – only a few weeks later – penalized for a breach of the Rules of Golf again!

1. See video.
Start by seeing what happened in this video:

2. Facts.
As you can see he tapped down some grass/fescue with his foot in front of the teeing ground, before he made the stroke.

He asked his caddie whether or not what he just did was legal. The caddie said that he thought it was legal, but Mickelson stated that he was in doubt and that he would consult a rules official.

3. The Rules of Golf.
What does the Rules of Golf say about this incident?

a. Rule 13-2 states that you are not allowed to improve certain areas, hereunder your line of play, e.g. by tapping down something growing/fixed.
b. This Rule also applies for a ball on the teeing ground (i.e. although the ball is not yet in play) when something outside the teeing ground is improved (Decision 13-2/14).
c. There is an exception/clarification, though, stating, that there is no penalty, if the act does not create a “potential advantage” (Decision 13-2/0.5). An example where a player is not penalized (although he improves his line of play) is if he: “…repairs a small pitch-mark… on his line of play five yards in front of his ball prior to making a 150-yard approach shot from through the green“.

Mickelson talked to a rules official and the conclusion was, that indeed he had incurred a penalty (two penalty strokes).

The rules official thus must have concluded, that there was a “potential advantage”.

Personally, I think it could have been argued, that there was no penalty, since…

1) … the fescue was not sticking much up in the air, and it therefore seems unlikely, that it could (physically) affect the flight of the ball at all (i.e. no potential advantage). It seems more like it was a visual distraction. And I don’t think that eliminating a visual distraction creates a “potential advance” – but I could very well be wrong (feel free to write your thoughts about it below).

2)… it seems to me that his stroke (the flight line of the ball) was quite a bit left of the fescue, and that he (also for this reason) did not get any potential advantage out of it.

But Mickelson said that he wanted to make a low flying stroke and that that was why he tapped down the fescue (so that it did not interfere with his stroke). Probably the rules official based his ruling on that statement.

4. A lot of nonsense.
Please note, that during the three minutes long video, there was a lot of nonsense from both the commentators, from Mickelson and from his caddie, including this:

  • When the ball in on the teeing ground, there is no penalty.
    • Wrong (see above).
  • There is no penalty, when the ball is not in play.
    • Wrong (see above).
  • Mickelson would not have been penalized, if he – after having tapped the fescue down – had moved the ball to somewhere else on the teeing ground.
    • Wrong (see Decision 13-2/14 and 13-2/24). The penalty has been incurred as soon as he tapped down the fescue. You cannot avoid the penalty by teeing up somewhere else afterwards.
  • It was said that he did not detach anything.
    • Not a great statement, since you can improve an area without detaching something. Rule 13-2 thus states, that you cannot improve the area by 1) “…moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed…”, or by 2) “…creating or eliminating irregularities of surface…“.
  • Something is mentioned about Mickelsons intention (for tapping down the fescue).
    • His intention does not have anything to say. The ruling depends on whether or not there was an improvement that created a potential advantage with respect to his line of play.

By the way it all happened in the recent tournament “A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier”, and he had a double bogey on the hole in question and his score for the round was 74 (+4)…. whereby he tied for 65th.

Hopefully Mickelson will not be involved in any Rules issues for some time now….

/Brian

10 Comments
  1. Walter Sartorius says

    Brian, to me it was a clear and unambiguous penalty. There are only 2 basic rules concepts in golf 1) play the ball as it lies and 2) play the course as you find it. Very simple. In this case, Phil breached #2.
    While there has been a lot of talk about Dec 13-2/0.5, the fact is that if you eliminate a mental distraction (when not permitted by the rules) you have “improved” your situation. Ask yourself, if it wasn’t a physical or mental distraction why did he tamp it down? In this case I do think it was just a mental distraction and not a physical one, so he should have known better and his instincts immediately alerted him that he had messed up. I agree that all of the horrible commentating gave the impression that the rule was confusing, but the concept is simple- play the course as you find it, and don’t touch, move, bend or break anything unless a rule allows you to do so. Anyway, that’s how I saw this.

  2. A Ransley says

    Hi

    Lining up your shot is always a bit of a challenge so way back in the early 80s my pro told me to stand behind the ball and make a small indent in the ground a couple of feet behind the ball and use that to line up my feet.
    Was his advice wrong and is it illegal to use that lining up technique?

    TX on advance for your response

  3. Bob Lawrence says

    Fair play to Mickelson for saying he wanted to play a low flying shot. Following that statement the referee had no option but to inform Phil of a breach. Hats off to both.

  4. Bob Lawrence says

    Fair play to Mickelson for saying he wanted to play a low flying shot. Following that statement the referee had no option but to inform Phil of a breach. Hats off to both.

  5. Bob says

    Like all sports rules are sometimes dubious and like all active sports players rules are pushed to the limits at times. All golfers complain about them.

    If one is unhappy with a “Rule of Golf” take the time and write an email to your respective country golf organization (USGA/GC/R&A). Outline your concern and suggest an improvement. These comments are reviewed and form part of the consultations and review that is done prior to publishing new rules every four years.

  6. Anonymous says

    Looks a lot to me like a calculated exhibition of someone trying to make it look like he isn’t the “breacher” that he is. Just sayn.

  7. Ronnie says

    Looks a lot to me like a calculated exhibition of someone trying to make it look like he isn’t the “breacher” that he is. Just sayn.

  8. Ronnie Moffat says

    Looks a lot to me like a calculated exhibition of someone trying to make it look like he isn’t the “breacher” that he is. Just sayn.

  9. salim says

    What sort of examples are the best players in the world setting for impressionable youngsters and young players.
    Mickelson twice in one month
    Neymar at the world cup
    ball tampering in cricket ( aus and Sri lanka)

    This sort of flagrant flouting of the rules by senior professionals should be severely dealt with in all sports

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