A Lesson Learned: The PGA Championship and knowing the local rules of a course

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Dustin Johnson is approached by PGA Rules official David Price following his final round at the 92nd PGA Championship.
By
Mark Wilson, PGA
PGA.com

Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Saturday, August 21, 2010 | 11:13 p.m.

Following the controversial Sunday at the 92nd PGA Championship, there were many questions about the ruling which penalized Dustin Johnson and kept him out of the playoff for the title.

For this week's "A Lesson Learned," we will reprint the transcript from PGA Rules Chairman Mark Wilson which explained the responsibility of the players to know the local rules of each course as the tournament committees have determined and shared.

MARK WILSON: My name is Mark Wilson and I'm the co chairman of the PGA of America rules committee. And essentially what happened here, I think that many of you saw that on the 18th hole that Dustin Johnson's second shot ended up in the bunker on the right hand side of the hole. And one of the things that we tried to be very proactive about this week, because this is such a very unique and beautiful golf course, is we made it the No. 1 item on our local rules sheet simply to explain that all of the bunkers that were designed and built as sand bunkers on this golf course would be played that way. And that might mean that many areas outside the ropes might contain many footprints, heel prints, or even tire tracks from golf cars or other vehicles. And essentially as an admonition to the players to understand that on this unique golf course with as many as 1200 bunkers that they needed to be careful both inside and outside the ropes and that the appearance outside the ropes might be different and moreover that in spite of the heel prints, footprints, or tire tracks, those were simply irregular layers of surface from which no free relief would be available.

And in addition, and I think somewhat unusual, we also posted a notice in the locker room on the mirrors in the locker room explaining this one specific item. So in addition to having it listed as the very first item in our local rules, we also posted notice by itself to the same effect in the locker rooms. And it also mentioned that the stones and bunker local rule is in affect as well that meant that stones in bunkers could be treated as movable obstructions.

When the player grounded his club in the bunker, when his ball was in that bunker, he incurred a two stroke penalty and it didn't matter that he had grounded it once or twice. It's simply appears that he did ground it twice, but that doesn't have any bearing on the total penalty of two strokes while his ball is in that bunker, whether the club was grounded once or twice. The walking official with the group, David Price spoke to Dustin after he holed his putt to confirm whether or not he remembered grounding his club. He said he had not. And when he went into scoring he was able to see a video information that was available from CBS.

I did additionally offer to take him to the CBS truck if he wanted to view it in higher resolution on their big screen in the CBS truck and after he had viewed it a couple of times in scoring he essentially declined that opportunity, having viewed it himself a couple of times. So unfortunately it did result in a two stroke penalty which was added to his score for the hole and of course then hence he obviously is not in the playoff as a result.

Q. (Inaudible.)

MARK WILSON: Well, he was obviously very disappointed, but I've dealt with some difficult rule situations in the 30 or so years that I've been working the Rules of Golf, and I certainly have to say that I didn't expect him to be happy, but I will certainly say that he was a gentleman, he handled himself very well. I offered him any visual information that I could. Like I say, I wanted him to be certain, because as you know, this is a unique game, players are responsible for the correctness of their own score, which makes it different than any other sport. They don't keep their own score in basketball or football or anything else. But I wanted him to be comfortable that he had as much visual evidence as he needed and he was comfortable with that and as I say, I can't describe anything other than to say he was a perfect gentleman to me.

Q. (Inaudible.)

MARK WILSON: There's no bunkering map essentially that the players have been given because as you may know from the information that's made available, is that the estimate is that there are 1200 bunkers, but I think even the superintendent and his staff would admit that they have never been able to count them all. And so there's no map as such, and so when a player enters an area like that, especially on a unique golf course like this, it is a different situation for them. And I mentioned to somebody from Sky Sport that just by contrast a few weeks ago I'm close to the number, I think they there are 96 bunkers at St. Andrews so, we played there a few weeks ago and if that number isn't exact, don't hold me to it, but there's around 90 some bunkers at St. Andrews, so now there's 1100 more bunkers here than there are at St. Andrews and it just presents itself with a very unique situation.

Q. How much review was given before the ruling was made of the grounding the two shot penalty? Was the video conclusive that he grounded the club?

MARK WILSON: Yeah, the video was conclusive and in fact several of our officials I was actually getting ready to run the playoff, which now David Price is continuing and I think you'll all be anxious to see the outcome of that. I was getting ready to run the playoff, so I didn't see it myself, but several of our officials had finished their duty for the day and were in the officials room and were watching it on TV, as well as our official in scoring Brad Gregory, he noticed it as well, so it was fairly evident fairly quickly that there had been a breach of the rules.

Q. Because some of these bunkers are covered with tire tracks and all sorts of footprints and fans can walk in them, is it possible that the rule is unfair and would you consider revisiting it next time?

MARK WILSON: Well, I think that the golf course is obviously unique, but I think that one thing that is true about the game is that generally speaking a principal of the game is to play the ball as it lies and play the course as you find it. And in fact if some of you look at old pictures, look at the old pictures of Old Tom Morris in the bunkers at St. Andrews and the sand setup over his shoes. And so this is a unique course with unique characteristics and I think the dilemma is, is that it's even harder to say some of these are not bunkers and some of them are because then how do you define those? And then a player would be essentially on treading on thin nice almost every time he entered a Sandy area wondering where he was. And with 1200 of them there's no way to confirm with each player exactly where he lays.

Q. Did Dustin know the rule?

MARK WILSON: He certainly knows the rule about the penalty involved in grounding your club in a bunker, but he certainly, again, his explanation was essentially, no, I just didn't recognize it as one when I walked in. He didn't recognize it as a bunker when he walked in. And again this is a unique, unique, golf course, the players are used to looking at a smaller number and a more manicured group of them, and so it was different to his eye when he approached it.

Q. So he thought it was a waste area then?

MARK WILSON: He didn't say what he thought it was, maybe that it had just been a trampled area or something like that. I think he might have said that, that, well, it was just maybe a trampled area of spectators. But it has a lip on it.

Q. We don't know that he saw the poster in the locker room?

MARK WILSON: No, I did review it. I did review the Local Rule with him afterward, and did point out that it was one of the reasons that we placed it as item one on the rules sheet so if players didn't get any farther than that on the rules sheet, that they would have a chance to do that. Q. (Inaudible.) MARK WILSON: No, he didn't speak to any marshals at all.

Q. (Inaudible.)

MARK WILSON: No, he didn't consult the walking official and as you know the walking official that's assigned to the group in the case of stroke play is not as much like a Match Play referee. In other words the walking official is there designed to help the player and to answer a player's question but the walking official in stroke play is not their to strategize every player's stroke or cover over a player who is making a stroke. These are experienced Tour players who by and large know the rules and we want to assist them as best we can, but he did not consult with David Price, the walking official that was the reason David was there and assigned to walk with the group. He certainly could have stepped away and said, you know, David, can you confirm the status of the area that I'm in.

Q. And he's not going to jump in and offer that advice unless asked?

MARK WILSON: David certainly would have jumped in, under the circumstances with the many people over there, it was hard. Obviously, for the player himself to get there, let alone for the walking official. If the walking official can prevent a breach of the rules, he certainly will, but under the circumstances it was hard enough to get the player over there and again if it's that hard to get the player over there, all the rules official is going to be doing is hovering over the player and they're really not trying to encourage that, we're not trying to tell the players that's, hey, you've been assigned a walking official because we're going to scrutinize every rule.

Q. When you pointed out the item one on the sheet to him, at any point did he say I knew that or I read that?

MARK WILSON: You know, I don't know. I was so focused on presenting what I did, presenting what I needed to present and I was pretty focused on explaining the situation. Obviously it was a difficult situation. You know, at one point I guess he did say that to me and begin he came back to kind of this comment about the characteristics being different. I do recall he did mention that. But see even in a situation like that I can't recall every word that was said. It's interesting.

Q. But he indicated that he was aware that all of the hazards are considered bunkers?

MARK WILSON: Yeah, I believe so. He just said when he got in there he just wasn't sure about the status of that area.

Q. Define a waste bunker.

MARK WILSON: Well, the term waste bunker is really a misnomer because under the rules there are either bunkers, which are prepared areas which are, as the definition says in the rules book, often where a hollow where the turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like; and the definition also goes on, grass covered ground or building within a bunker is not part of a bunker. And there was no grass covered ground in there, obviously, there was grass covered ground around there. Now the term that's misused as a waste bunker are areas that are not prepared or designed as bunkers and under the Rules of Golf are really more appropriately defined as areas called through the green in the area where you could ground your club, but, so the term waste bunker really is more appropriately defined as through the green and it's really kind of a misnomer that people use incorrectly and it really doesn't have an application in the rules.

Q. (Inaudible.)

MARK WILSON: An area trampled by a spectator, damaged by, for example, there's a walk off area on 5 that has a hugely trampled V shaped groove that's clearly a walk off area as opposed to something that was specifically designed by the architect as a bunker.

Q. What was his reaction when you explained it to him?

MARK WILSON: Like I say, he was disappointed, but he was just, he couldn't have been more of a gentleman about it. He really couldn't have been.

Q. (Inaudible.)

MARK WILSON: I didn't mean to be so technical either.

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