The most talked-about shot at the U.S. Open wasn’t a shot at all. It was more of a Happy Gilmore-style slap at a moving ball.
It happened on the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills on Saturday when Phil Mickelson, in the middle of a bad round, faced an 18-foot downhill putt for bogey. His putt rolled past the cup and appeared to be picking up speed and on its way to rolling off the front of the green. To the surprise of everyone watching, Mickelson jogged over to his still-moving ball and whacked it back up toward the hole, nearly sinking it.
He marked his ball on the other side of the hole, missed the comeback, and finally made a tap-in for an eight, although his infraction was deemed a two-shot penalty so he actually took a 10. He wound up shooting an 11-over-par 81 — his worst round in a U.S. Open — and is 17 over for the championship.
The U.S. Golf Assn. issued a statement about the situation: “During play of the 13th hole Phil Mickelson made a stroke on the putting green at the time his ball was moving. As a result, he incurred a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 14-5. His score for the hole was 10.”
According to the USGA website, Rule 14-5 says that a player “must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.”
Mickelson would be subject to possible disqualification if it were determined he violated Rule 1-2, which reads: “A player must not (i) take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play or (ii) alter physical conditions with the intent of affecting the playing of a hole.”
But John Bodenheimer, the USGA’s senior managing director of championships and governance, said the rules committee unanimously decided that it was Rule 14-5 that applied here.
“To go to Rule 1-2,” he said, “Phil didn’t purposely deflect or stop the ball, which is talked about in reference under Rule 14-5 — 14-5 explicitly covers a player making a stroke at a moving ball, and so we operated under that rule.”
“Look, I don’t mean disrespect to anybody,” he said. “I know it’s a two-shot penalty. At that time, I just didn’t feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over. I took the two-shot penalty and moved on. It’s my understanding of the rules. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that. I just finally did.”
Mickelson insisted it wasn’t a case of his frustration getting the better of him, but a strategic decision.
“It was going to go down in the same spot, behind the bunker,” he said. “[I] wasn’t going to have a shot. I don’t know if I would have been able to save a shot or whatnot, but I know it’s a two-shot penalty, hitting a moving ball. I tried to hit it as close to the hole as I could to make the next one, and you take the two shots and move on.”
His playing partner, ebullient Englishman Andrew Johnston, was laughing with Mickelson when they walked off the green.
“I said that was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, and then just started laughing, to be honest,” Johnston said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got to laugh at this.’
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s something you might see at your home course with your mates or something. But it was just a moment — I think it’s just a moment of madness.”
A couple of first-round quarterbacks got their share of double takes Saturday while walking around Shinnecock Hills.
Former USC standout Sam Darnold, selected third overall by the New York Jets, spent the day watching golf with Josh Allen, taken seventh by Buffalo.
They signed autographs and posed for selfies with fans, and in one case, unwittingly caused a stir.
“One [golfer] was trying to play an iron on a par three and someone yelled,‘J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets,’ right in his backswing,” said Darnold, who had never attended a golf tournament before. “He knew I was there, that’s why he was yelling, and it just so happened to be right in the guy’s backswing by accident. It was just a funny fan moment.
“But the laser focus of [the golfer], who still hit a really good shot, was cool to see. It’s just really cool to see these guys do what they do — even with all the hecklers and everything that’s going on, they’re able to focus on what they need to do.”
Rickie Fowler might be the world’s best golfer who has never won a major championship, but he sure didn’t look that way Saturday. He imploded with an 84, the worst round of the day.
That included two bogeys and two doubles on the front nine, and three bogeys, a double, and a triple on the back.
“You start to kind of laugh at it,” Fowler said. “I wasn’t necessarily playing the best of golf and that kind of gets compounded with how tough it is playing.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
2:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional explanation of the rules of golf and comments from Phil Mickelson, his playing partner Andrew Johnston and USGA official John Bodenheimer.
This article was originally published at 2 p.m.