The first mistake belonged to Mickelson, who used a different type of golf ball than he had been using in his fourballs match with Zach Johnson against Jason Day and Adam Scott. The second mistake belonged to the rules committee, who told Mickelson he was disqualified from the hole.
The result? The International team went from all square to 2 up in one hole.
“It’s a strange situation,” said Mark Russell, the vice president of rules and competition for the PGA Tour.
The one-ball condition means that players cannot switch golf ball models during the round. The penalty is known as a one-hole adjustment. So when Mickelson realized he was playing with a different ball, the International team was to be awarded one hole at the conclusion of the one they played.
Match referee Gary Young consulted with the rules committee, and Russell said he told him that Mickelson was disqualified from the hole. Russell said he checked with other officials on the committee and they concurred.
Only later did the committee realize it had given Young the wrong information. Because the penalty already had been assessed – the one-hole adjustment – Mickelson should have been allowed to finish the hole. He was in the fairway, 292 yards away on the par 5.
Day wound up making birdie to win the hole, and the match was all square after six.
Russell said once a shot had been played, the committee could not go back and have Mickelson finish the hole because “allowing a correction could potentially undermine the strategy” already in play by both teams.
“It’s just unfortunate that he was told he had to pick up the ball,” U.S. captain Jay Haas said. “Had he been able to play out and make a 4 and tie the hole, then it would only have been 1 down instead of 2 down. But that didn’t happen, so nothing you can do about it.”
What’s yet to be determined is why Mickelson had two different models of golf balls in his bag.
“He was not angry,” Haas said. “Just, ‘Hey, rookie mistake, my fault, captain.’”