Noted cheater Phil Mickelson played out the final round of the clumsily named A Military Tribute at Greenbriar Sunday, well out of contention from start to finish. Perhaps it was the low-stakes atmosphere of this formality of a round that led Phil to earn back some brownie points on the par-4 seventh hole, after he stepped off the tee box to stomp down an unruly tuft of grass reaching up into his preferred line of play.
USGA Rule 13-2 (“Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play”) says a player must not improve, among other things, “his line of play or a reasonable extension of that line” by actions including “moving, bending or breaking anything growing.” And since Phil did, in fact, improve his line of play by bending something growing on the course, he did technically violate the rule. And, this being Phil’s first start since his infamous meltdown at the U.S. Open, he was no doubt loath to cause another uproar with a self-serving interpretation of the rulebook.
But this is also super dumb! As Phil pointed out to the official, he could’ve just as easily improved his line of play by moving his ball a foot to the left or right, and even if he’d done it after stomping on the grass, it wouldn’t have been a rule violation, because the grass no longer would’ve been in his line of play. But here he went very strictly by the book, and the rules official took the same view, and now golf can resume patting itself on the back for the honorable, self-policing behavior of its participants. Everyone wins. Except for the lonely golf snitches watching at home, still hoping to derive some shit-hearted thrill from spotting a silly and minimally consequential rules violation. Denied!