As you know, the rules controversy of the week is over Jim Furyk. After Phil Mickelson shot a 75 in his morning pro-am round, he voiced his ardent objections on the rule that dismissed Furyk from The Barclays, the first of four events in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Mickelson, who happened to lunch with Tour commissioner Tim Finchem following the pro-am, and added, “I made my viewpoint very clear to him.”
Furyk was deemed “ineligible” to play in The Barclays because he overslept and missed his 7:30am starting time (by five minutes) for Wednesday’s pro-am. Some believe the punishment was too penal for the crime. Be that as it may, rules are rules and this one was created to protect the generous sponsors from dodging a pro-am without a very valid reason. In other words, you can’t call in sick the morning after you were hitting it hard until the wee hours the night before.
But Furyk, a two-time winner this season and 3rd in the FedEx Cup point standings, isn’t one to play hookie. He also has an impeccable record. Well, except for that one time at Bay Hill, which happened before the rule went in effect in 2004.
“A long, long time ago, I got there a little late at Bay Hill,” said Furyk. “The alternate filled in for me for two holes and then I just stepped in and played the rest of the way. In seventeen years, twice.”
Being the class act he is, Furyk took responsibility for breaking the now contentious rule. No worries because Mickelson had his back and seized the opportunity to sound off on the commish and the policy. In fact, he made a good point.
“The rule itself applies to only half the field,” said Mickelson. “So if you’re going to have a rule that does not apply to everybody, because not everybody played the Pro-Am, you cannot have it affect the competition. It’s got to be a different penalty. It can’t be disqualification if it only applies to half the field. So this rule — it’s not protecting the players. It’s not protecting the sponsors. It applies to only half the field and yet it affects the integrity of the competition. I cannot disagree with it more. I have no idea how the Commissioner let this rule go through.”
That seems to make sense, right? Right. But context and history in relation to Mickelson’s opinion should be noted.
In 2007 Mickelson got a pass for a similar situation at the Byron Nelson Classic, which triggered the whole “Phil/Tiger receive special treament” (double standard) and a slew of angry responses from his fellow players. Exhibit A: “100% of the players, except for Phil, think he shouldn’t be here” said Shaun Micheel at the ’07 Nelson (see here for basis of Micheel’s argument.) For more outraged reactions, see here from Stuart Appleby and here from Robert Allenby and Rod Pampling. (I guess Australians really don’t like Phil, huh?)
So this is what happened to Phil in ’07. Following an appearance in Arkansas, he was planning to fly to Dallas on Tuesday evening, but inclement weather closed the airport. Okay, he can’t control the weather, right? Right, but it was inferred that he could have made more of an effort to get there the minute that the airport reopened because, well, he wasn’t flying commercial.
His pro-am tee time in Dallas was 7 a.m. But Mickelson didn’t get up early and try to be there on time. Instead he took his time Wednesday morning and got to Dallas around 11 a.m. He offered to play in the afternoon, but that would have required the Tour to rearrange all the tee times. Mickelson did have lunch with the people who paid big bucks to play the pro-am with him.
I have no idea what the situation was exactly because I wasn’t there, nor was I covering golf, but sounds like there were grounds for the resentment. (Cue to someone chiming in that others are just jealous of Phil, etc.)
Fast forward to the present. Asked if Mickelson had to negotiate his way into the field in ’07, he replied:
No, because the rule was such where if you have an issue like that, you can get an excuse. The airport’s closed, what are you going to do? You can’t take off. The roads were flooded. I couldn’t drive. I didn’t have an option. They had actually made — the rules had already made for that accommodation, if a player wasn’t able to get there for an unforeseen occurrence.
Mickelson believes there should be a penalty, but one that fits the crime, like, a fine of x-amount, along with the Tour and player doing whatever it takes to make sponsors walk away feeling like they should thank player for oversleeping, etc.
“Either way, the penalty, whether it’s fine him or what have you, it cannot affect the competition,” said Mickelson. “This is not a competitive round. It’s the Pro-Am and only half the players are playing it. So whatever penalty you have, it cannot affect the tournament when it only applies to half the field. That’s just wrong. And again how the Commissioner let that slide or get through is ridiculous. I don’t know.”
Tough to argue, especially since it’s the playoffs — points are doubled in the four FedEx Cup events — and there’s a lot of money on the line. Again, I know rules are rules and the intentions behind this one are good. But if the FedEx Cup is as special and major as the Tour would like us to believe — with the vigorous marketing campaign that begins practically Day 1 of the season (I mean, you’ve seen the ads, right? Here’s one of my favorites) — perhaps they should amend the rule.
Point being, the No. 6 player in the world, who could fall from 3rd in the standings to 19th (in a rare, worse case scenario), has been cut from The Barclays before the first tee shot in a tournament round. That sucks. And not just for Furyk.
In other news, Mickelson’s vegetarian diet is going well.
[Photo by AP/Hong]