We're not breaking new ground when we say the rules of golf can get exceedingly stupid, tedious, and confusing. But Phil Mickelson's penalty on Friday at the Presidents Cup led to an entirely new ruling that everyone playing, watching, broadcasting, and observing had never encountered.
The infraction led to the American duo of Mickelson and Zach Johnson essentially losing a hole twice. Mickelson decided to change the model of his Callaway ball on the 7th tee. He went ahead and hit which was a violation of the one-ball rule -- you cannot change the model of your golf ball in the middle of the match. He was told he was disqualified from the hole and Johnson had to play the rest of the hole in this best-ball format by himself up against Jason Day and Adam Scott.
Johnson lost the hole, posting a par while Jason Day drained a birdie putt. So the USA went 1-down on the lost hole. But before they teed off at the 8th, the rules official stepped in again to say there was some confusion about the penalty. There would ALSO be a "match adjustment" or "match penalty" for the violation. The ruling they were relying on:
The Phil/Zach wrong ball rule & penalty is here: pic.twitter.com/QT4QkQ04zm— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) October 9, 2015
So on top of Phil getting DQ'd in the middle of the hole, they docked the USA side another hole and they went to 2-down, essentially losing the 7th hole twice. No one had ever seen such a ruling in match play (as Terry Gannon noted on the broadcast, this quirk could change the meaning of "dormie"). Phil loudly stated he had never heard of such a penalty. Everyone was confused and assumed the rules officials had made some sort of mistake.
How can you lose a hole twice???! #usgarules #wow— Keegan Bradley (@Keegan_Bradley) October 9, 2015
The conversation up on the tee went on forever and there was still confusion several holes later about whether the correct ruling was made. Zach Johnson even asked if they should let the group behind play through while things were initially sorted out on the 8th tee.
A few things in the aftermath as we still try to sort out the blunder:
1) Mickelson was apparently told he was disqualified from the hole, which was a mistake according to Golf Channel's rules expert. So he should not have picked up after hitting his drive and should have played in with Zach Johnson in an attempt to halve or win the hole with his wrong ball. Then the adjustment would have been made after that. If that's the case, it's a huge blunder by the rules official walking with Mickelson and Johnson.
UPDATE: Head rules official Mark Russell called USA captain Jay Haas in for a face-to-face meeting and, according to Golf Channel's Steve Sands, apologized to the American captain. He admitted to rules "committee error" and that Mickelson should not have been told he was disqualified from the hole but that at this point in the match and in the session, there was nothing they could do about it and would not "waive the additional one-hole penalty." An hour later, they issued a lengthy "final word" statement admitting as much:
Statement on the Mickelson ruling. #PresidentsCup pic.twitter.com/SysYuzLuVl— Dave Shedloski (@DaveShedloski) October 9, 2015
2) Phil made a dumb mistake switching up the model of golf balls and it's weird that a pro even has multiple models in his bag during a competitive round, as PGA Tour pro Graham Delaet pointed out on Twitter:
@BobWeeksTSN imagine being a professional golfer and having 2 different types of balls in your bag. That's more bizarre than the ruling.— Graham DeLaet (@GrahamDeLaet) October 9, 2015
3) The match board on site at the Presidents Cup and the PGA Tour's leaderboard still had not adjusted their scoring of the match with that penalty more than an hour after it was handed down. No one seemed to know whether it was official.
PGA Tour app says Phil/Zach are 1-up thru 11. What the hell is the score, really? pic.twitter.com/HodqWiKWMb— Scott Michaux (@ScottMichaux) October 9, 2015