Ruling in PGA Championship Fuels Debate
Rules of Golf
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A controversial ruling in the final round of the PGA Championship Sunday is generating some spirited debate among those in the know here in the "Home of American Golf."
Dustin Johnson, leading the PGA Championship by one shot, pushed his drive on the 18th hole to the right, and it came to rest in a sandy area outside the gallery ropes where spectators were standing.
There was no lip around the sand, there was no rake visible, spectators had been walking through it all day, and there were even a couple of personal articles resting in the sand.
Johnson thought his ball was just resting in a sandy area in the rough. He chose his club, then grounded the 4-iron before making the shot. He went on to bogey the hole and thought he was going to be in a three-hole playoff with Bubba Watson and eventual winner Martin Kaymer.
But PGA officials huddled, called a two-stroke penalty on the South Carolina native and ended his hope of winning a major championship. It was was one of the most controversial rules calls ever in a major championship.
Was the ruling a fair one? Did officials make the right call? Several area personalities were asked their opinions, and while there was general agreement that the PGA did the only thing it could under the circumstances, there were some arguments that it was wrong to be in the position to have to make the call.
Jack Nance is executive director of the Carolinas Golf Association and a good golfer in his own right. He is involved in dozens of tournaments each year and is an expert on the Rules of Golf.
"Should a rules official have been more proactive?" Nance asked. "Should Dustin have asked a rules official before grounding his club? Should spectators be allowed to walk in bunkers? Should all bunkers look like Augusta National? Should all bunkers be on the golf course?
"One could argue this until the 2014 U.S. Opens come to Pinehurst. But when you trim the fat, what wins the argument is that these areas are defined as bunkers and were listed as such on the local rules sheet and posted for the players.
"In the CGA, we distribute what many refer to as rules sheets at all our events. I would guess that less than one percent of golfers read them from A to Z. To give an example, at one of our events we cleverly inserted on a rules sheet that we would give away one dozen free golf balls to anyone who told us that they had read that giveaway sentence. Not one person collected the balls.
"It's kind of like reading the DMV traffic manual before getting behind the wheel of a car each time. But in either case the driver (of the car or the golf ball) is responsible for his violations."
Bruce Hallenbeck is the director of the Senior Amateur Golf Tour and the eGolf Amateur Tour, which hold weekly events throughout eastern North Carolina. He's had to make a few rulings during the years and understands how tricky it can be.
"Let me preface my comments by saying the rules are the rules," he said. "There are many times during our tour play that I've had to enforce rules that are tough calls where no obvious advantage was gained and the application of the rules has been kind of 'picky.' Still, the rules must be enforced to the letter of the law to ensure fair competition.
"The biggest point in favor of the PGA ruling was that they had issued a 'Rules Sheet' prior to the event noting that all sanded areas on the course were considered bunkers.
"There is one major point where I had great misgivings, however. Any trap that allows spectators in it, with the resulting footprints, irregularities, debris, etc., that would accompany such traffic, in my opinion should be deemed a waste bunker."
Dick Wilson, a veteran golfer and tournament organizer who is the main man behind the Moore County Men's Amateur Champion-ship, didn't see the incident on television, but did read about it.
"I believe in the Rules of Golf," he said, "but often feel that they are just a little too tight for the multitude of golfers. My gut reaction is that there should have been more clarification on what was a sand hazard versus a sandy area.
"For the PGA to identify all sand as a hazard appears to me as being insensitive to the game and not paying attention to the results of the public tramping down and over grassy/sandy areas."
Bob Rigsby puts on the Moore Buddies Tournament each August, and he thinks the call was an unfortunate incident.
"I believe the PGA should be very embarrassed," he said. "I'm sure it's not a strict requirement, but I can't remember seeing a bunker without a rake. Not having a rake would make it a waste bunker in my opinion."
Betsey Mitchell is a freelance golf writer, president of the Carolinas Golf Reporters Association and an avid student of "The Rules of Golf."
"From my perspective, the critical issue is a common problem in competitions at every level," she said. "The rules committee usually provides each player with a printout of the Local Rules and Conditions of Competition. The players seldom read these and regularly complain about something being unfair after incurring a penalty clearly documented on the unread rules sheet.
"So, as a rules official, I refer you to Rule 6-1. The player and his caddie are responsible for knowing the rules. For all other arguments, I refer you to the USGA. I'm pretty sure their lines are pretty busy."
John Derr has been involved in covering golf for newspapers and television for three-quarters of a century, and he's seen almost everything the game can offer.
"This was one of the most 'unnecessary' necessary penalties I've ever seen inflicted," Derr said. "Many people were to blame. No one was to blame. But it never should have happened.
"The PGA shunned the blame because it did issue a 'local rules order'. It is not the choice of the competitor to change whatever rules are in force. But was the rule fair, with spectators standing in the plot?
"One good outcome of the incident was the gentlemanly manner in which Dustin Johnson accepted the ruling, shaking hands and moving on. A great tournament suffered. A good golfer won. We know who won. The loser was the PGA."
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