CAPE TOWN – It's now 12 days since Phil Mickelson did the unthinkable and I still can’t get the image out of my mind. And I guess it’s the same for most of us. I’ve always had good thoughts about swashbuckling Lefty. The power, the outrageous shot-making.
Definitely Phil the Thrill. Those miracle flop shots that, if they don’t go in, they fizz and bite and stop right next to the cup. That engaging smile as he interacts with the fans. Is that smile completely genuine, or is he, as some say, just putting it on to make everyone think he’s such a nice guy? Who knows, but for me rather a smile than a scowl.
Now when I, along with everyone else out there, think of this amazingly talented golfer who is still winning tournaments even though he’s not too far off 50, the image that immediately comes to mind is of him running down the 13th green after that moving putt of his in the US Open third round at Shinnecock Hills, and then hitting the still-in-motion pill back towards the hole.
“Putt-gate” by the five-time Major champion on the day he turned 48 has, not surprisingly, caused an uproar in the golf world.
And understandably so, although every golfer who has ever played the game would have done a similar thing in a social round, as the anger and frustration gets to us as we fail to cope with this notoriously difficult game.
Of course, doing so in a US Open is a completely different story. Did he show disrespect to the championship? Most certainly he did, although at the time he claimed that incurring a two-shot penalty (which led to a 10 on the hole) was better than what he could have ran up had the ball rolled off the green.
He said it was a deliberate act to “take advantage of the rules” (and Mickelson knows the rules better than most) and told his critics who felt he should have been disqualified to toughen up.
Now, after mulling over his actions, he admits to being “embarrassed” and “sorry” and that anger and frustration had got the better of him.
Mickelson’s playing partner that day, Andrew Johnston, wasn’t so sure that it was a deliberate act to take advantage of the rules. “His body acted quicker than his brain,” the Englishman explained.
“It was brutal out there and he was upset about the way he played the previous holes. It just got to him.”
Rory McIlroy felt that people wanting to crucify the American over-reacted, and Mickelson’s wife Amy said: “He’s a good man who had a bad moment, and we all make mistakes.”
Others, though, still want him to pay dearly for his sins, but for me, I don’t judge the man. Yes, he made a big mistake and heaven forbid that he has started a trend. We definitely don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry on the pro circuit scampering down greens after their putts.
But Mickelson for 30 years now has entertained us - nay, enthralled us - with his golf. And he does always come across as the gentleman. He’s a credit to the game.
Someone close to me suggested that perhaps he’s earned the right to do what he did because of what he’s given to golf for so long. I won’t go that far. None of us are bigger than the game.
Finally, heartiest congratulations to our own Jovan Rebula for claiming the biggest title in golf outside the paid ranks when he won the Amateur Championship at Royal Aberdeen on Saturday.
He is, of course, the 20-year-old nephew of Ernie Els, and even Uncle Ernie never won the Amateur!