Rich Beem knows a little something about what U.S. Open course setups can do to a man. The 2002 PGA Championship winner has played seven of them.
“My record is six missed cuts, one made cut, finished DFL,” he said with a laugh. “I know a thing or two about getting my head bashed in by U.S. Open golf courses.”
It was Sunday at Shinnecock Hills, but most of the conversation was still about Saturday and Phil Mickelson’s slapshot stunt on the 13th green. Beem gazed out on the first fairway and talked about how brutal U.S. Open beatdowns can be. He hasn’t forgotten the frustration that comes with playing greens so hard and fast they seem better suited to hosting a Stanley Cup than a golf tournament.
But still …
“I never thought about hitting a moving ball in competition on any course, in any situation,” he said, shaking his head. “And this is from a guy who walked off after nine holes at the Open Championship because I truly feared I wasn’t going to break 90 and was going to embarrass myself.”
By Sunday morning that was a common refrain among players who know well the teeth-grinding fury of competing in a U.S. Open, who can fully empathize with the stresses of battling both the breeze and the blue blazers this week.
“All I can say is he hit a moving ball in competition, and that is against the etiquette of the game and the rules of the game. That’s the best thing I can say,” said Curtis Strange, who won back-to-back U.S. Opens three decades ago. “Let everyone else judge for themselves. You don’t do that at your club. You don’t teach juniors to do that. Nobody does that.”
Strange was the Fox Sports announcer called upon to interview Mickelson when he finally emerged from the creative writing class required to sign his scorecard. It was a painful conversation, with Mickelson exhibiting a Rudy Giuliani-esque mixture of arrogance and ignorance amid improbable protestations of innocence.
Strange understands how a baked battlefield like Shinnecock Hills can make a guy lose his composure. He’s been there himself. He likes Mickelson. He admires the competitive fire.
But still …
“I do like Phil, I always have. I respected him as a player and a person, but he embarrassed everybody yesterday,” Strange said. “He embarrassed everybody.”
Respected. Past tense, I noted.
Strange doesn’t flinch.
“I respected him as a person and as a player, but I’m not finishing that comment. I think he just …”
He sighs, sounding more saddened than angry.
“He embarrassed everyone.”
Given the demanding conditions, there were many guys in the field who felt the same frustration as Mickelson as their tournament slipped inexorably away.
“They all bit their tongue. They wanted to do what Phil did, but they knew they couldn’t do that,” Beem said. “I’m not just talking about the guys 22 over par. I’m talking about the guys leading it!”
It wasn’t the infraction that most bothered Beem, it was Mickelson’s response.
“If his explanation had been, ‘I lost the plot, dude. That’s all it was.’ If he’d just come out and said, ‘Boys, I lost it. I apologize.’ He would have endeared himself to more fans,” he said. “I don’t think this is going to stain his legacy. That’s nonsense. But to try to explain it in a meaningful way? Really?”
Mickelson shot 69 on Sunday in the company of Rickie Fowler. It was a round Beem didn’t think the six-time U.S. Open runner-up should have played.
“If you knowingly hit a golf ball in motion out of sheer frustration, I think you’ve pretty much resigned, haven’t you? That’s enough! The course wins! It’s time for me to bow out! That’s how I see it as a player. If I do that in competition, I don’t even think I’d hit it again. I’d pick it up.”
But Mickelson didn’t. After talking to USGA officials Saturday night about the ruling that permitted him to continue, he went off at 8:43 a.m. Business as usual. Not everyone could muster the same casual attitude about the shot.
“It never occurred to me in my life to even think about something like that,” Strange said. “In my life! I was in shock. I thought I was seeing things. Because he’s better than that. He’s better than that.”
But still …
Golfweek, June 17, 2018.