Golf balls are likely to roll every which way this week at a dry, brown Carnoustie Golf Links during the British Open. Speed and direction are anyone’s guess. The one thing that seems certain is that Phil Mickelson will not try to take a swipe at any ball while it is moving.
As he prepared for the season’s third major by playing this past week in the Scottish Open, Mickelson acknowledged his mistake in flouting the rules and hitting a rolling ball during the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills. He referred to it as “the worst moment in a 25-year career.”
“It wasn’t the greatest decision,” he told reporters in Gullane, Scotland Thursday. “Throughout my career, 25 years, there have been a lot of times where I have had to be accountable for decisions I did not make. And the reason why this has actually been easier (is) it was my own fault.
“The backlash is my own fault,” he said. “So it’s much easier to deal with than some of the times when I have not been involved in the decisions and had to deal with that.”
Mickelson was cheered enthusiastically by fans in Southampton even after the incident on the 13th green in the third round. He was defiant afterward, insisting he knew what he was doing in incurring a two-stroke penalty and that anyone who found fault with it should “toughen up.”
He later changed his stance on it, after receiving criticism on social media and strong barbs from the golf media that has been overwhelmingly positive in its coverage of him — including times when he was in the middle of storms caused by other people’s decisions, such as the choice by Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton to put Mickelson together with then-rival Tiger Woods. He was cited for being a poor sport in a game that is built on honor, with players expected to call penalties on themselves. Well, he did call the penalty on himself at Shinnecock.
Four days after the episode at Shinnecock, Mickelson seemed remorseful in a text to several reporters. He was more direct with the Scottish media Thursday. “I made a big mistake and you know, I wish I could take it back. But I can’t,” he said. “There’s not much I can do about it now other than just try to act a little better.”
Golf fans in Scotland gave him a warm reception this week, suggesting that their support is sturdy. In that part of the world, especially during the Open Championship week, it is the weather that can be fickle.
Jim (Bones) Mackay, Mickelson’s former caddie and now a roving fairways reporter who will work the Open for NBC and Golf Channel, said he likes to predict one winner if the course is dry and another if it is wet.
“We saw it as recently as 2016, when Phil and (Henrik) Stenson butted heads on the weekend. Literally half the field was eliminated on Thursday and Friday because our side of the draw got such a great break,” Mackay said on a conference call the other day. “I think that Mother Nature goes a long way in determining who is in the hunt there and how things go. And I think it’s just going to be fascinating to see what we get, given the fact that Scotland has had very little rain the last few months.”
When he was pressed to name his rainy and sunny favorites, he gave two names, neither of which was Mickelson. “Well, I haven’t finished all of my homework,” he said. “But at this point, my dry pick is going to be Tommy Fleetwood and my wetter pick is going to be Dustin Johnson. That’s subject to change.”
147th British Open
When: First round begins Thursday.
Where: Carnoustie (Scotland) Golf Links, 7,402 yards, par 71.
Last year: At Royal Birkdale, Jordan Spieth lost a three-shot lead in the final round, but was 5-under on holes 14-17 and won by three shots over Matt Kuchar.
TV: Thurs.-Fri., 1:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Golf Channel; Sat., 4:30-7 a.m., Golf Channel, then 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Ch. 4; Sun., 4:30-7 a.m., Golf Channel, then 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Ch. 4.