GET INTO GOLF: Frustration can lead to a learning experience |

GET INTO GOLF: Frustration can lead to a learning experience

John Renslow
Golf columnist

Have you ever been typing on your computer and lost all of the data? Ever thrown anything in disgust? Ever said something in anger that you wish had not been said? Are you glad it wasn’t seen by millions of people?

Well, last weekend, during the third round of the U.S. Open, one of golf’s most popular players may have succumbed to his frustration.

Here is the scene. Phil Mickelson is on his 13th hole of the day and has a downhill putt of approximately 20 feet. Phil knows if he hits the putt aggressively, there is a risk that the ball could travel well past the hole, possibly off the green and down the slope toward the fairway.

Yet, a gentle approach could result in a ball affected by imperfections in the green and/or another downhill putt.

Phil addresses the ball and hits an assertive putt. Too assertive it turns out. The ball rolls toward the hole at a pace that leaves no doubt that, if it doesn’t hit the hole, it won’t stop rolling anytime soon.

This is where the frustration creeps in. U.S. Open conditions are extremely difficult, even for the world’s top players. A USGA (who runs the event) official once said, “We’re not trying to embarrass the best players, we’re trying to find them.”

Rather than allow the ball to roll out and have an even more difficult shot, Phil hustles down and meets the ball on the other side of the hole. He then makes a putting stroke at the moving ball and sends the ball back up toward the hole. Still left with a few feet to go, he makes this putt and the hole is over.

His fellow competitor gets a chuckle out of the scenario and both players proceed to the next tee.

The result is a two-stroke penalty (as assessed by the Rules Official). But, there is no official ruling on the ensuing controversy.

Upon completing his round Phil, surrounded by reporters, stated that he made the stroke at a moving ball, because he knew that it would reduce the number of strokes necessary to finish the hole. He ‘took advantage’ of the rules in order to have a lower score.

The question becomes — is it “bad form” or disrespectful (to the game and other players) to stop or deflect a ball from completing its motion in order to avoid a more challenging position?

What about the other players in the field who would finish lower than Phil in the standings and receive less money for their efforts, because another player used the rules to ‘his advantage’?

What message does this send to aspiring players, young and old alike, about the game, the rules, and the spirit of the game?

This is not a random player in a weekend Nassau. This is one of the game’s best players, ever.

We all know about frustration, on the course and off. We have all screamed, slammed our hand on a table, or perhaps tossed something gently in disgust.

When this happens, don’t go down the “it wasn’t my fault” road.

Yes, we did it. We lost our cool. We shouldn’t have said it. We didn’t mean to break it. We just need to fess up.

Fortunately, this is the place Phil arrived at a couple of days later. “It was not my finest hour. I’m sorry.”

Our game is a game of honor. Perhaps the only sport in which players announce their own breech and call penalties on themselves (when no one else would have known).

For many this is/was a brouhaha. Yet, for this author, it is case closed.

Phil’s frustration got the best of him, during the round and immediately following. But, given time to reflect a bit, he humbly recognized the shortcoming. We all have. And we use these moments of human frailty as learning experiences, potential teaching opportunities, even if you are 48 years old and a sports legend.

John Renslow is a PGA Class A Professional and Instructor at Alta Sierra Country Club. To contact John with your questions or comments at

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