DUBLIN, Ohio – In the hours directly after Phil Mickelson’s withdrawal from the Memorial Tournament due to “mental fatigue,” I received hundreds of emails and tweets. Just about half felt that Mickelson should be exonerated from any wrongdoing because of his two decade-long commitment to competing in PGA Tour events without having any track record of bowing out early. Meanwhile, the other half believes he should be held accountable for quitting on the performance without seeing it to fruition.
The one thing we can all agree upon: This is a hot-button issue for which there are no easy answers.
That’s because there are so many different layers to the story. Without a clear-cut, yes or no conclusion to most of the questions currently being asked, we have to explore the gray areas. Let’s break down a few of the major components to this issue:
Does Mickelson have a greater responsibility than lesser-known PGA Tour players?
Four players withdrew from the Memorial following Thursday’s opening round. Each posted a score of 79 or worse. Of the four, only Tom Gillis listed a reason (back injury) for leaving the tournament early.
Of course, Gillis and fellow WDers Sang-Moon Bae and Boo Weekley don’t sell tickets or help draw television ratings like Mickelson. And yet, holding the Hall of Fame inductee to a higher standard is to claim inequality amongst the PGA Tour ranks.
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but Mickelson never asked to be held more accountable just by winning. He never implored fans to buy tickets to see him, never insisted that they watch telecasts when he’s in contention.
That’s not to say that we can’t criticize him for withdrawing without physical injury, but if we do, we must also scrutinize every other PGA Tour pro who leaves early without a valid excuse every week – and yes, it does happen every week.
Is Mickelson being punished in the court of public opinion for his honesty?
A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels hit Washington Nationals rookie phenom Bryce Harper with a pitch. When he was asked about it after the game, Hamels neglected the age-old unwritten rule about denying all culpability.
'I was trying to hit him,' the lefty said. 'I'm not going to deny it.'
Rather than play the innocent card, Hamels spoke the truth – and was widely criticized for it. Mickelson’s case is easily analogous. He could have cited a non-threatening tweak to his back or a shoulder, which in turn may have helped to explain why he shot 79. Instead, Mickelson told the truth, referencing his “mental fatigue” as the reason, leading to commotion and consternation among the masses.
Or did he? There’s scuttlebutt at Muirfield Village that Mickelson may have been mentally fatigued, but his rationale behind the decision was to send a message to the PGA Tour and this tournament about its cell phone policy, considering he appeared very distracted during the course of play on Thursday.
If that’s the case, then his punishment for being honest serves as delicious irony if he indeed wasn’t completely honest about the reason for withdrawing.
Does the PGA Tour need to rethink its cell phone policy?
In covering many tournaments in the season’s first five months, I’ve noticed that the rule in regard to cell phone use by fans remains wildly inconsistent.
There are some events in which any ticket-holder with a cell phone visibly showing anywhere near the rope line separating galleries from the action are told to put it away and threatened with revocation of their ticket; at other events, there is often little to no policing of the policy at all.
The simple fact is, with voluntary marshals attempting to protect the needs of competitors, there will never a streamlined enforcement policy to which all parties can agree. That said, there needs to be greater consistency from week to week. When it starts affecting play – as it did on Thursday – then it becomes an issue.
The easy answer is for the PGA Tour to ban all cell phones, but in today’s age, officials would risk losing many potential gallery members if cell phones were completely prohibited.
Should Mickelson be suspended or fined by the PGA Tour for withdrawing without an injury?
This one is simple: No.
According to the 2012 PGA Tour player handbook, Article IV, Section A-8 states: “Fatigue will not be considered a valid reason for withdrawing.” However, this particular rule only applies to players who withdraw after committing to a tournament and prior to beginning the opening round or those who withdraw during a tournament round.
After the completion of a tournament round, no reason for withdrawal is necessary. So based on the bylaws of the PGA Tour, he is not subject to any sort of punishment.
Which leads to…
Does the PGA Tour need a stiffer stance on its in-tournament withdrawal policy?
It happens every week. A player – or a number of players – will post an ugly number on Thursday, and then decide that instead of slogging through another 18 holes before slamming the trunk, he’ll cut his losses and head home one day early.
Sure, it would be nice for the PGA Tour to crack down on quitters, but there’s always an easy alibi in place, so it would be impossible to enforce.
Just a few weeks ago, Angel Cabrera hit three balls into the water on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, and then later withdrew from The Players Championship due to “personal reasons.” The announcement drew laughter from the assembled media contingent, which altogether considered three water balls to be very “personal.”
At least Cabrera gave a reason – whether it was genuine or not. The same can’t be said for other players on a week-to-week basis, but the level of wrongdoing can be endlessly debated.