Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is a links-style golf club. That means that it is typically on or near a coast and the terrain is one of dunes and very minimal water hazards. It is the oldest style of golf course, dating back to the original styled courses in Scotland. In today’s landscape of golf, some links courses do not hire a greens staff. They use a couple people to cut the holes, sometimes resulting in uneven ones. Apparently, Shinnecock Hills used this method for the 118th U.S. Open this year.
Shinnecock is a founding member of the United States Golf Association (USGA). It has one of the oldest golf clubhouse in the U.S. It was the site of four previous U.S. Open championships. In 1986, Raymond Floyd shot one under and won by two strokes over Chip Beck and Lanny Watkins. In 1995 it was Corey Pavin’s turn to hoist the trophy, finishing even par to win by two strokes over Greg Norman. Retief Goosen won in 2004 by shooting four under and beating second place Phil Mickelson by two strokes.
Mickelson is known as “Mr. Bridesmaid” because he has finished second six times at the U.S. Open. You read correctly, a record six times. He has never been the “bride”. The U.S. Open is the only major that has eluded him, preventing him from having the career Grand Slam. The other major golf tournaments are The Masters, The Open (The British Open), and the PGA Championship. Mickelson played well at Shinnecock before, so maybe this would be the year he finally takes the title of “maid” off his nickname. On Saturday, he was four over going to hole 13. He wasn’t completely out of it either. Usually the U.S. Open is tough and having a score of even par could win. Mickelson missed a putt and as he watched his golf ball slide passed the hole, the unthinkable happened. He ran to the ball, while it was still moving, and whacked it back toward the hole. WHAT?! I have never in all my years of golf seen a golfer do this. Mickelson waited for the ball to finally stop and then marked it for another putt.
In golf you MUST allow the ball to come to a stop before proceeding. The USGA Rule14-5, says a player must not make a stroke while a ball is moving, otherwise they incur a two stroke penalty. However, there is Rule 33-7, which allows for the committee to disqualify a player if it believes a serious breach has been made to etiquette. This brings into question a player’s intent and spirit of the game. This is why Mickelson should have been disqualified. He is one of the best golfers in history for his short game. No matter where the ball landed, it would have been conceivable for him to make his very next shot.
“He should’ve been disqualified,” insisted one former major champion. “Phil knew what he did and told everyone what he did, which was worse. It’s like robbing a place, walking out and saying to the cops ‘I did it,’ and the cops go, ‘It’s OK, it’s just you.’” If Tiger had done this, it would have been worse than his scandal. Dozens of players, informally polled by Golf Digest, all agreed that had it been anyone else they would’ve been disqualified. Some thought that the two-stroke penalty was enough. “He hit a moving ball and tried to use the rules to his advantage,” said Brandt Snedeker. “The USGA had a chance to disqualify him for being egregious and they didn’t, so no. The rules screw us over so many times, so more power to him for using them.”
Mickelson chose to pout about the conditions of Shinnecock, and throw a tantrum. He wasn’t alone about the way the course was playing, but he didn’t express himself properly. The strong winds and the dry, fast greens made it challenging to score well. The hole locations were not the best either. The USGA finally had to admit that the course was too tough Saturday afternoon. Ian Poulter wrote on Twitter, “Did Bozo set up the course?” On Saturday evening and Sunday morning, the grounds crew watered the greens to make them softer and slower.
The results were immediate. Several players made birdies and scored better than the day before. One of those was Tommy Fleetwood. There is no current relation to Fleetwood and the American-British band Fleetwood Mac. Now, “Go Your Own Way” is stuck in my head. Fleetwood is the sixth golfer in U.S. Open history to shoot a 63 in a round, tying the record. When asked about his amazing final round, he said “I should have shot 62”. Yes, if he had shot 62 he might have put more pressure on Brooks Koepka and won. The least he could have done was been in a playoff with him. Koepka had already showed he could win a U.S. Open when the scoring was easy. Last year at Erin Hills, the 28-year old tied a major’s record with a winning 16-under score. He is the first to win back-to-back U.S. Open’s since Curtis Strange in 1988-’89. Koepka said, “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t think I could have dreamt this, to go back to back. It’s truly special.”
It is sad that Koepka’s win is being overshadowed by Mickelson’s conniption and the course. Just wait eight more years when Shinnecok Hills will be the U.S. Open host in 2026.