Johnson Debacle Put Spotlight on 'Local' Rule
In the end, there’s no one for Dustin Johnson to blame other than himself.
Dustin Johnson hit the tee ball into the right rough. Dustin Johnson grounded his 4-iron before hitting the second shot. And that’s the gist of what happened in one of the most bizarre finishes in PGA Tour history.
Was the ruling of a two-stroke penalty the correct one? Yes. Was it a fair one? Under the local rules of the club and the PGA, yes.
Does that make Dustin Johnson or a million golf fans feel any better about what happened? No.
Frankly, I think the PGA of America officials blew this one before the championship started. You’re going to have to do some serious convincing to make me believe that the patch of sand Johnson hit from on the 18th hole Sunday should have been considered a bunker.
I don’t care how many times Pete Dyeabolical smiles and says it was built as a bunker and it remains a bunker. The incident that occurred Sunday was not good for the game of golf.
Bunkers are an integral part of any golf course. They’re strategically placed to ensure that golfers play the course the way the architect laid it out. If the player wants to gamble by trying to cut a corner and catches a bunker, that’s just golf. But what happened to Dustin Johnson Sunday was not golf. It was a travesty.
The PGA of America was right in enforcing the rule the way it did after the incident. But the error officials made was in playing a national championship under local rules.
A bunker is a bunker. No argument, no complaint. But if you’re going to have a little scrap of sand stuck far to one side of a fairway and allow 40,000 people to tromp through it, the least you can do is label it a waste bunker.
There is no penalty for grounding your club in a waste bunker, and golfers don’t expect to have pristine lies when they hit into one. You don’t even rake a waste bunker after playing from it.
So, OK, did that little bitty bit of sand Johnson found his ball in look like a bunker? Was it freshly raked to erase footprints of any previous player who had been there? Was there even a rake anywhere near this so-called bunker? Were people standing in this “bunker” when Dustin Johnson hit his second shot? Was there stuff inside the “bunker” that fans had placed there as they stood in it waiting for the golfers to come down the 18th fairway? Did anybody anywhere in the world who was watching think Johnson was in a bunker?
With all that evidence, how could this have been declared a bunker? Because it was decided before the championship that anything called a bunker anywhere on the course would be played as bunker. After all, the PGA decreed, that was the local rule. Really? And was this a local championship?
My golf cap is tipped to Johnson for handling the decision like a gentleman. He could have easily lost his composure and said or done things that would have made him look like a loser in more than a golf tournament. He didn’t. He took the high road. He accepted his punishment and faced the inquiring media with class and dignity.
Johnson has burst onto the golfing scene this year with a win at Pebble Beach in January and by holding the lead in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June before coming apart in the final round and shooting an 82. He’s a talented player with a great future and it’s too bad that he’s suffered two unfortunate debacles in majors within a couple of months of each other.
I feel for Johnson because he did nothing to bring the ruling on himself other than one thing. He didn’t read the rules sheet that the PGA officials passed out prior to the championship.
And he didn’t even think about that lonely little patch of trampled sand as being anything other than that.
As my old friend John Derr so elegantly put it: “Dustin Johnson was the winner. The PGA was the loser.”
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