Sand trapped

Dustin Johnson didn't realize he was in a bunker when he hit his second shot on the 72nd hole Sunday. Because Rules Officials determined he was, his bid for a first major title ended with a two-shot penalty.


Dustin Johnson figured his ball had settled on a worn-out area of land, but Rules Officials ruled it as a bunker and penalized Johnson for grounding his club. (Getty Images)

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

KOHLER, Wis. – Dustin Johnson will never forget the 92nd PGA Championship, and it’s not likely that the fans of golf will soon forget it, either.

Read the official rule (.pdf)

Interview with Rules Official Mark Wilson

Playing the 72nd hole of the championship at Whistling Straits, Johnson stood on the tee with a one-shot lead over Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer at 12 under.

Moments later, his bid at first major title turned out to be a major gaffe.

Johnson’s tee shot on No. 18 sailed wide right of the fairway and into the gallery. Whistling Straits, crafted by renowned designer Pete Dye, features 1,200 bunkers.

Johnson found one of them. He just didn't know it.

Trampled by fans walking the grounds throughout the week, Johnson figured his ball had settled on a worn-out area of land. That’s why, Johnson said, he didn't have a problem grounding his club.

“I just thought I was on a piece of dirt that the crowd had trampled down,” Johnson said. “I never thought I was in a sand trap. It never once crossed my mind that I was in a bunker. Obviously I know the Rules of Golf, and I can't ground my club in a bunker, but that was just one situation I guess. Maybe I should have looked to the rule sheet a little harder.”

Johnson went on to make what he believed to be a bogey on the hole, which would have meant a three-way playoff with Watson in Kaymer at 11 under.

Instead, after meeting with the PGA of America Rules Officials, Johnson was issued a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker, turning his bogey into a triple bogey and ending his chance at winning his first major championship; he dropped into a tie for fifth.

“I don't know if I can describe it,” Johnson said. “You know, walking up there, seeing the shot, it never once crossed my mind that I was in a sand trap. I guess it's very unfortunate.  I guess the only worse thing that could have happened is if I made that [par] putt on the last hole. I never once thought that I was in a sand trap.”

The bunker issue was one the PGA Rules Committee found to be so sensitive and important, that the following bulletin was given to every player in the field before the tournament started and was also posted in the locker room.

Here is the exact wording of the bulletin given to players:

Notice to Competitors - Bunkers

1. All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during the play of the Championship. Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions. All bunkers inside the ropes will be raked each morning prior to play as normal.

2.  The local rule allowing players to move stones in bunkers will be in effect.

Mark Wilson, co-chairman of the PGA of America Rules Committee, explained the decision to penalize Johnson.

“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,” Wilson said. “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 incident adds to a major season of heartbreak for Johnson. Back in June, the 26-year-old took a three-shot lead into the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but wound up shooting an 11-over 82 to tie for eighth.

As he left Whistling Straits Sunday evening, Johnson was looking at the positives.

“I hit some really good shots coming down the stretch, made some birdies to get a one shot lead going into 18,” he said. “Other than the unfortunate incident on 18, I played really well all day. I'm definitely happy with my play.”