Golf: Officials in damage control after tough day, admitting set-up backfired but insisting Mickelson penalty fair

Phil Mickelson was penalised for "making a stroke at a moving ball" at the US Open, but was not disqualified.
Phil Mickelson was penalised for "making a stroke at a moving ball" at the US Open, but was not disqualified.PHOTO: REUTERS/USA TODAY SPORTS

SOUTHAMPTON, New York (AFP) - The United States Golf Association (USGA) was in damage control mode on Saturday (June 16), admitting they botched the US Open course set-up but defended a decision not to disqualify five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson.

USGA chief executive Mike Davis admitted the organisers' zeal to make the US Open the "ultimate" test in golf backfired as higher-than-expected winds dried out the sloping greens at Shinnecock Hills.

"We felt good about the set-up when we left this morning," he said. "We felt that it would work well given the forecast we had. Now that I'm sitting here, we would say that part of this test were simply too tough.

"We saw some examples late in the day where well executed shots were not only not being rewarded but in some cases penalised."

John Bodenhamer, the USGA's managing director of championships and governance, meanwhile took on the thorny question of Mickelson's amazing swipe at his moving ball on the 13th green.

The five-time Major winner was penalised two strokes under rule 14-5 that bars a player from "making a stroke at a moving ball".

Regarding the super-fast greens, Davis said the worst spot was the 15th, where the hole location was too close to the edge of the green.

"It worked fine most of the day, but it didn't work fine later in the day," he said of the pin position at the par-four 15th, which was the hardest hole on the course playing at an average of 4.6 shots.

"We simply got higher winds than we anticipated. The grass really began to dry out. If you looked at it at the end, it was almost wilting around there and it just didn't have enough grass to hold the ball up."

Former Masters champion Zach Johnson said flatly that the USGA had "lost" the course.

But Davis said steps would be taken to insure there was no repeat of the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock, where the greens dried out over the weekend to the extent that some were virtually unplayable.

"We must slow the course down tonight and we will," Davis said. "So that probably means more water applied."

After Mickelson admitted that he was trying to "take advantage of the rules", debate raged on social media as to whether he should be disqualified under the rule stating a player "must not take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play".

Bodenhamer insisted rule 14-5 was appropriate to the situation.

"It is not an intent-based rule," he said. "It is a fact-based rule. You operate under what actually happened."

Mickelson insisted that he meant no disrespect when his bogey putt at Shinnecock Hills' par-four 13th skated past the cup and was heading down a slope when he trotted after it and batted it back towards the hole with his putter.

He needed eight strokes to get the ball in the hole and with a two-stroke penalty walked off with a sextuple-bogey 10 on the way to his worst round in 27 US Open appearances of 11-over 81.