Phil Mick­elson shocked com­men­tators and fans at the U.S. Open on Sat­urday after a missed putt on hole 13, when he ran over to the still-rolling ball and jabbed it toward the hole. That move is common to weekend golfers, but it’s a two-stroke penalty according to the rules of golf.


After a day of missed greens and lip-outs, Mick­elson evi­dently had had enough with the dif­ficult course. Though Mick­elson said later that the move was a cal­cu­lated one, reporters were skep­tical and Fox News Sport’s Curtis Strange asked whether the move showed “dis­re­spect to the championship.” 


This con­tro­versy didn’t happen in iso­lation. Only three players in the field shot under par on Sat­urday. As the course dried out in the afternoon, the con­di­tions went from dif­ficult to unfair. Pin placement on incon­sistent greens penalized many good approach shots that landed near the hole and rolled off the green. In his post-round interview, Justin Thomas described the pin placement on the 15th green as “unplayable.” Others chose more stark terms, like Zach Johnson, who said the course was “lost.”


With every year, the U.S. Open venues seem to be harder, faster, and longer, and this year is no exception. Coming off Brooks Koepka’s 16-under par victory last year at Erin Hills, tied with Rory McIlroy’s 2011 win at Con­gres­sional for the lowest winning score to par, the firm and fast con­di­tions paired with 20 mph wind gusts at Shin­necock Hills seemed to be the perfect rebuttal from the USGA. 


Even after the USGA Chief Exec­utive Mike Davis came on the air late in the afternoon to admit the asso­ci­ation made a few mis­takes and allowed good shots to be penalized, it isn’t clear that they really know where the line between dif­ficult and unfair really lies. 


This isn’t the first time players have spoken out about unfair playing con­di­tions at Shin­necock. After the greens weren’t watered all weekend in 2004, not one player shot under par. Davis called 2004 “a great learning expe­rience” in 2011, but after apol­o­gizing for the same thing at the same venue, the USGA doesn’t seemed to have learned its lesson.


The U.S. Open is known as golf’s toughest test, and the dif­fi­culty of the course is a part of what makes this event great. It’s under­standable that the USGA wants to dif­fer­en­tiate this tour­nament from regular events, where winning scores often reach double digits under par. So yes, the fairways should be firm and the rough should be long, but the greens should be hit­table and the putts should be makeable. Oth­erwise, it doesn’t reward good players and is hard to watch.


So when Mick­elson finds it more advan­ta­geous to take a two stroke penalty than to “play it as it lies,” instead of ques­tioning his respect for the tour­nament, golf com­men­tators should question the USGA’s respect for the players who make its tour­nament worth watching.