SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — When Phil Mickelson got home Saturday evening — his head still spinning from one of the more bizarre episodes of his highly entertaining and unpredictable career — one of the first things he did was call USGA executive director Mike Davis.
"I'm fully willing to withdraw," Mickelson said, as recounted Sunday afternoon by his wife, Amy.
Mickelson knew that under Rule 14-5 his actions on the 13th green — striking a moving ball — would cost him two strokes, but he was less aware that officials could, theoretically, have also applied another more damning rule. Under Rule 1-2, the blue coats could have deemed that Mickelson’s shenanigans gave him "a significant advantage," resulting in disqualification.
Withdrawing won't be necessary, Davis told him. USGA officials had reviewed his actions on 13 and decided that the two-stroke penalty was the appropriate penance.
Mickelson declined to talk to the press Sunday after posting a final-round 69, a 12-stroke improvement from his third-round tally, meaning reporters were left to guess whether he was feeling any regret or remorse after his rules flap. On Saturday, he made no apologies after his round — "toughen up," he said to anyone who was offended by his creative application of the rules — but later in the evening he did admit, via a text to a handful of media members, that it was "not my finest moment."
On Sunday, Amy went a step further.
"He’s a good man who had a bad moment," she said as she watched her husband sign autographs after his round. "He's not perfect — I'm not, you're not. … You might have a bad day at work or do something or say something that you regret. When [players] do it, it’s on a very large stage and there’s so much immediate reaction on Twitter and social media, it can overwhelm."
Amy described the hours between the conclusion of her husband’s third round and his 8:43 a.m. Sunday starting time as a whirlwind. She and Phil did not have time to properly reflect on what happened. She said more than once that Phil meant no malice and that his intent was not to disrespect the game or his peers.
"It was very uncharacteristic," she said. "If he acted like that all the time, I think that’s different. I think everyone should be allowed to have a moment."
If Mickelson's fans took any umbrage at his actions Saturday, it was difficult to detect as he and Rickie Fowler paced the fairways Sunday. Amy, who walked the entire round, didn't hear a single heckle.
Fowler and Mickelson chuckled about the rules incident as they warmed up on the range, then discussed it again as they played the 1st hole. ("He could have saved himself a shot by taking an unplayable," Fowler said after the round, "but that would still look pretty funny.") Fowler saw no evidence that Mickelson was weighted down or distracted. Indeed, when Mickelson returned to the scene of his crime — the slippery, sloping 13th green — and holed a five-footer for par, he smiled and threw his arms to the sky.
"He looked like he'd won the Masters," Fowler said. "He didn't jump but he had a little celebration."
When Mickelson exited the scorer's cabin after his round, an assortment of media, family and well-wishers were hanging around to greet him. He chatted up his old pal Jimmy Dunne, a Shinnecock member with deep roots in the game. He huddled with Amy and their three children, giving each of them a warm hug. Then he sidestepped a scrum of reporters to delight his fans instead. Reporters kept their distance, trailing Mickelson as he spent more than 30 minutes scribbling his name on hats, flags and even an Arizona State ID card. At the end of the session — and with the press still in tow — he beelined for the privacy of player hospitality and disappeared into the air-conditioning.
Mickelson’s next attempt at buttoning down the career grand slam will come at Pebble Beach a year from now. He'll be 49 then. Still a threat surely, but how much of a threat is up for debate. You could understand why some fans have interpreted Mickelson's theatrics on the 13th green as the actions of a frustrated golfer who knows his time is running out.
"Does he want it? Desperately. More than anything," Amy said. "Will he get it? I believe he will. I’ve believed that since we were 20 years old. You have to have that self-belief for it to become a reality."