Does It Pass The Nicklaus Test?

By now, you’ve seen the video of Phil Mickelson’s moving ball violation on #13 of Saturday’s U.S. Open round.

Was this a violation of the spirit of the competition or simply a smart golfer taking advantage of the rules?  You be the judge.  Phil is a very bright articulate guy.  After watching his explanation to Curtis Strange, his reasoning seemed half plausible.

We can recall numerous accounts of questionable behavior on tour from Rory McIlroy throwing a club into a lake after a bad shot, to Arnold Palmer, one of my boyhood idols, sending a putter into orbit after a three-putt (saw this in person at the Kemper Open), to Tiger Woods exhibiting less than stellar behavior with his temper tantrums and bad language, to just about everything John Daly has ever done including playing a moving ball in the 1999 U.S. Open.

These folks are human and are not perfect, and are under a constant microscope.  But the behavior of professional golfers in general has been excellent.  When I see one of these events, it’s tempting to view it through the eyes of  “the children”.  What would “the children”, with young impressionable and malleable minds be thinking of this?  Doesn’t really matter because “the children’s” idols largely reside in team sports where players have far worse behavioral issues than professional golfers.

I view this behavior through the prism of the Jack Nicklaus Integrity Test.  What would Jack do?  I’m sure he’s had his incidents, but I’ve never seen or heard of an integrity problem with the greatest who’s ever played.  How would he have behaved in such a situation?  I believe Jack would have let the putt finish and played it as it lies.  Sometimes Jack weighs in on these matters, as he did with Rory’s behavior.  Would love to hear his take.

I’m a huge Phil fan, but he was wrong to do this.  What really bugged me in his explanation that he’d been “thinking of doing this several times before.”  Really?  This time Phil outsmarted himself.  What do you think?

7 thoughts on “Does It Pass The Nicklaus Test?”

  1. To your question – I would have been happier if Phil just said, “I lost my mind for a moment in frustration” but that is not what he said.

    I’m not a rules expert but you always here the “experts” talk about “intent” and so Phil’s breach of the Rules of Golf sure seems like a fine line between Rule 14-5 making a stroke at a moving ball (2-stroke penalty) and Rule 1-2 purposely deflecting or stopping a ball (DQ).

    Phil admitted he hit the moving ball to keep it from going to a place he did not want it to go (seems like that his intent was to purposely deflect a ball which would invoke 1-2 but because the ball did not stop and was moving it is Rule 14-5).

    This is what makes the Rules of golf so hard for all us regular golfers or golf fans.

    But hey, Phil clearly knows the rules and how to use them to his advantage. My gut tells me if it was any “regular” golfer playing in a local tournament, they’d be DQed.

    And as you said, Phil’s actions certainly lacked integrity.

    1. Catherine,

      I completely agree and didn’t like Phil’s explanation. David Fay, ex-USGA Executive Director though he should have been DQ’d under rule 1-2. If you’re applying the rules consistently, John Daly was not DQ’d in the ’99 US Open for playing a moving ball in much the same manner. I just didn’t like the way it went down. Thanks for weighing in!


  2. Brian

    The rules of golf are designed to level the playing field. Many rules in sports are “bent or broken” to gsin an advsntage. In this case, I think Phil had enough. Tje course was ridiculous and he played himself out of the tournament.

    Do I think it was in good form, no not at all. I am a huge Phil fan and in this case he should have let the ball stop and play it where it finished.

    I am not going to hold it agaist Phil. It is not that big of a deal to me.

    Chees Jim

    1. Jim, apparently Phil contacted the USGA afterwards and offered to WD. The offer was not accepted and the issue seems pretty much resolved. I think Phil’s last chance for a US Open will be next year at Pebble. If there’s anywhere he can do it, it’s there.



  3. Brian,

    I completely agree with your assessment. It was definitely a huge lapse in judgement. I feel like his explanation was more to try avoid embarrassment and convince us it was a calculated move rather than one resulting from him losing his cool (and patience). Definitely not good, but I’ll give him a mulligan on this one. With all the things happening in this world, that’s not something I’m too worried about. I will definitely remain a fan of Phil, we all make mistakes.


    1. Josh, yes. Phil opened up and apologized yesterday. Probably should have done it when it happened but he was really frustrated and beat down by the golf course. Understandable considering the conditions.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s