Koepka wins, Mickelson loses at U.S. Open

Well, what does everyone think about last week’s U.S. Open? I’m torn on a number of issues, but I think one thing is clear.

Brooks Koepka was the week’s big winner. Back-to-back U.S. Open victories are rare. And the fact that he won consecutively on two completely different set-ups tells me — and really proves to us all — that he can win at 16-under or 1-over.

Another thing that’s clear to me is that The Vindicator column jinx is real. Not only have I continued my streak of never picking a correct winner, but this week the jinx went to a whole new level. We saw my pick, one of the game’s most experienced and revered players, Phil Mickelson, lose his grip on the event altogether.

On the 13th hole Saturday afternoon, as the course was drying out and starting to become somewhere between unfair and unplayable, Mickelson had a downhill 15-footer for bogey. Immediately knowing he hit it too hard, he watched, and eventually jogged to the moving ball. And then, inexplicably, rather than watch the ball continue to roll away from the hole and probably off the front of the green, Mickelson hit his still moving ball back toward the hole. A two-stroke penalty was applied.

And the golf world went nuts.

Golf Channel commentators debated whether this would tarnish Mickelson’s entire career. Twitter went crazy with calls for him to be disqualified or withdraw. Comparisons were made to infamous infractions of the past, such as John Daly’s mental meltdown at Pinehurst in 1999 that led to a disqualification for swatting away a moving ball.

To his discredit, Mickelson didn’t help the situation when, after emerging from the scoring tent and being swarmed by a mob of reporters, he basically told offended golf naturalists to “suck it up” and realize he meant no disrespect to the game.

I believe the USGA acted correctly by applying a two-stroke penalty for “making a stroke at a moving ball.” Because in the end, that’s exactly what Mickelson did.

There has been debate about his intent. Nor whether he really thought of that “option” prior to the round or tournament. But rules aren’t made to be interpreted based on what someone is thinking. Rules are made to react to actions. In this case, there was a clear action. Mickelson made a stroke at a moving ball. In this case, there was a clear rule to deal with that action. So when the USGA applied the clear rule to the clear action, I can’t really argue against it.

Was it a good choice by Mickelson? Absolutely not. I don’t care if the USGA puts the hole in a clown’s mouth just past a windmill. He’s Phil Mickelson, he has six second-place finishes in our national championship. He’s trying to complete the grand slam. And fair or not, he’s one of the sport’s biggest ambassadors and role models. He should finish the hole the right way and let the heat fall on the USGA for their poor setup decisions.

But to all the purists out there who think Mickelson disrespected the game and the U.S. Open to the point where he should have been disqualified, complain to the USGA. If they agree with that philosophy, there’s an easy fix from their end. Change the offending result from a two-stroke penalty to a DQ.

At the end of the week, we could fault Mickelson for terrible judgment. And we could complain about the USGA’s continued inability to get through a U.S. Open week without some mistakes on their end. We congratulate Koepka for accomplishing a tremendous back-to-back feat that hasn’t been done since the late 80’s.

Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com.

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