The fourth and final of golf’s major championships is in the books for 2010. For the second time this year, Dustin Johnson may need Calgon to take him away.
Seven players were separated by two shots at the PGA Championship (held at Whistling Straits in Kohler, WI), including four Americans. One of the four was the aforementioned Johnson, who held a one-shot lead heading into the tournament’s 72nd hole. A clutch birdie at the Par 3 17th gave him the edge.
But what would happen next would be a twisted mixture of déjà vu and pure cruelty.
Johnson stepped up to the 18th tee and let loose with a tentative, yet aggressive swing. After a heavy groan, one could sense the images of Pebble Beach began dancing in his head.
Johnson’s tee shot sailed way right – and into the gallery.
As the crowds on the 18th began to disperse and make way for the 26 year-old American, Johnson eventually hit his second. The approach wound up in the thick rough left of the green.
Following an excellent chip, Johnson pushed an 8-foot par putt that could have won him his first major championship.
Or so we thought.
At that moment, we were under the assumption that once again Dustin Johnson had given away a golden opportunity to win a major. But on this day, that opportunity would vanish in cruel and sadistic fashion.
When hitting his second shot at 18, Johnson ground his club in the sandy earth where his ball lie. That also happened to be one of Whistling Straits’ many bunkers.
After an extended delay, the PGA rules committee hit Dustin Johnson with a two-stroke penalty, pushing him back to -9 in the tournament, and knocking him out of the playoff that eventually featured Bubba Watson and eventual winner, Martin Kaymer.
And this is where the controversy hits its boiling point.
For one, the fact that a player can’t ground his/her club in a sand trap is a rule that any and every serious golfer knows.
Confusion is easy considering the hundreds of patrons being in the hazard at the same time.
There’s also the key point mentioned by the PGA during the tournament’s final round coverage:
“All of the areas of the course that were designed and built as bunkers would be played as bunkers,” PGA Tour official Mark Wilson told CBS during the broadcast. “Whether or not they were inside or outside the ropes, the notice and first item on the rule sheet went on to say that this may mean in the conduct of the championship that some some areas outside the ropes might have many footprints, heel prints or tire tracks and nevertheless, those were irregularities of surfaces from which no relief would be permitted.”
Whistling Straits features a course layout that may just have as many bunkers as Wisconsin has cheese and beer. OK, maybe not.
In all honesty, it is tough to argue with the PGA. After all, the rule was posted in the clubhouse. A notification was available to players before the start of the tournament. But just because the rule was established doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a ridiculous rule.
It’s like a free-for-all to allow the gallery to walk all over a standard featured hazard of a golf course. The folks at Whistling Straits might as well have allowed the fans to wade in the course’s many waterways. Sell canoes and life vests at the main gate, guys.
Also, look at the angle Johnson had. The area of sand didn’t have an established lip that a standard bunker has. There was also a litter of footprints and a crowd of people.
It was almost like we were witnessing some twisted and chaotic “Bizarro World” version of “The Band Is On The Field” game between Stanford and Cal. Just in golf form.
One could argue that while Whistling Straits is a challenging course that warrants major championship consideration, perhaps it’s also a course that isn’t conducive for providing legitimate space for galleries to roam. Because, how is it fair for a guy to have to hit from footprints, or even tire tracks for that matter?
Tire tracks are man made. Yes, that’s a free drop on most golf courses. Yet, a major championship venue marks it as OK – are you kidding me?
Fine, go ahead and say, “Maybe Dustin Johnson should consider putting the ball in play”. That’s a fair point, but easier said than done on the final hole of a major.
During an interview with David Feherty (CBS), Johnson handled the matter with class. Still, you could easily see the pain and agony all over his face.
“I just thought I was on a piece of dirt where the crowd had trampled down,” Johnson said to Feherty. “I guess maybe I should’ve looked at a rule sheet a little harder.”
You see… that’s just it.
Lash out at the guy for not paying full attention to the marked rules more. But before you do that, look at your own daily life first. Do you mean to tell me that when you pay your phone bill or download a new version of iTunes, you read the countless pages of fine print first? You read every single word before you “accept the terms”?
Didn’t think so.
Then again, this day could have been worse – and Johnson explained that fact clearly.
“The only worse thing that could’ve happened was if I made that putt on the last hole,” Johnson said to CBS.
All in all, it’s a damn shame that controversy had to cover Whistling Straits thicker than the fog that caked the course during the opening few rounds. Because it was a great tournament that could have been so much better.
To the PGA: Perhaps there’s a lesson learned in giving a guy like Dustin Johnson a slap on the wrist. The rules committee should consider adding out of bounds markers, or maybe even axing Whistling Straits entirely.
For now, we’ll just have to wait until Augusta for the next major. There, I can guarantee that Dustin Johnson will have thousands of new fans pulling for him.
Until then, he’ll just have to accept the terms of this result – and move on.