Johnson handles shocking situation with grace, earning much respect

dustin johnson
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Dustin Johnson was composed when he spoke to the media, never once blaming officials or even questioning them. He’d violated a rule, no matter if he didn’t realize it.
Nancy Armour
Associated Press


Published: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 | 12:51 a.m.

Dustin Johnson was knocked out of the playoff at the PGA Championship on Sunday after he was penalized two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker he didn’t even realize existed.

He’d already given one major championship away. He never got a chance to finish this one.

Instead of 71 to join Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson in the three-hole playoff, he changed his score from a 5 to a 7 and signed for a 73 to tie for fifth. Kaymer won the playoff to collect his first major title.

“I don’t know if I can describe it,” said Johnson, who showered quickly and was on his way to his car before Kaymer and Watson finished their first hole. “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have thought I was in a bunker. But it’s not up to me.”

It was the cruelest ruling at a major since Roberto de Vicenzo accidentally signed for a higher score at the 1968 Masters, and the victory went to Bob Goalby. And it was yet another major heartbreak for Johnson.

The 26-year-old was the third-round leader at the U.S. Open, only to have a complete meltdown on the Sunday and shoot 82. It was the highest score in the U.S. Open by a 54-hole leader since 1911. It was also Johnson’s worst score as a professional.

He insisted he wouldn’t let the collapse linger, and Pebble Beach seemed the furthest thing from his mind at Whistling Straits. When he curled in a 12-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th, he was the outright leader, less than a half-hour from redemption.

But his tee shot on 18 sailed into the gallery lining the right side of the fairway, landing in a small patch of sand that had been walked on, kicked and trampled by thousands of fans over the last week.

“Walking up and seeing the shot, never once did it cross my mind it was in a sand trap,” Johnson said. “I just thought it was on a piece of dirt the crowd had trampled down. Never thought it was a sand trap. I looked at it a lot, never once thought it was a bunker.”

Whistling Straits is designed to mimic an old-style links course, with more bunkers than you can count -- literally. Anytime the grounds crew trims the fescue, another emerges. The PGA of America decided back in 2004 that every bunker is a hazard, no matter how many fans tromp through it, and players were reminded of it this week with a notice in the locker room.

Johnson never read it. Neither, though, did many other players.

“Honestly, I don’t think anyone reads the sheets,” playing partner Nick Watney said. “I mean, we’ve played in hundreds of tournaments, we get a sheet every week.”

Unaware he was in a bunker, Johnson grounded his club before hitting toward the green. He missed a par putt that would have given him the victory, and immediately turned his attention to the playoff with Watson and Kaymer.

But as he and Watney walked off the green, he was approached by Rules Official David Price. There was a problem, Price told them, Johnson might have grounded his club in a bunker.

“What bunker?” was Johnson’s reaction.

Given the details, Johnson immediately said he had grounded his club.

“But I never thought it was in a bunker,” Johnson said.

Though he never disputed he’d grounded the club, Johnson and Watney spent several minutes in the scoring trailer with rules officials and watched replays of the shot. Finally, he grabbed his pencil and changed the scorecard.

“I think I’m going to a playoff,” he said, “and I’ve got a two-stroke penalty.”

Johnson was composed when he spoke to the media in the clubhouse, never once blaming officials. Or even questioning them. He’d violated a rule, no matter if he didn’t realize it.

His lone consolation is that his finish earned him a spot on his first Ryder Cup team. But whenever he sees the Wanamaker Trophy from now, Johnson will know it could have -- maybe should have -- been his.

“Maybe a little bit,” Johnson said when someone suggested the title was “stolen” from him. “But that’s how it goes.”



Thank you Dr. Mandato for your kind words.


I fully agree with Mr. Fulkerson. If the PGA wanted all such areas on the course to be treated as bunkers, then it should have placed rakes in all such areas and kept the crowds from encroaching on them, like they do on other courses on tour. Never before have I seen the gallery standing in fairway or greenside bunkers at any tournament. I feel the PGA was at fault here, and should bear equal, if not all, the responsibility for Dustin Johnson's unfortunate situation this past Sunday. He is truly a "class act", unlike the PGA in this case.


What is a ruling to be when a bunker is intentionally, or unintentionally, disguised?

Regardless of the Local Rules and Conditions sheet, and what it said, I believe that is no excuse for the PGA Rules Committee's egregious handling of the Dustin Johnson ruling: The semblance of what may have at one time resembled a bunker was obliterated, and with the crowd all around precluding any perception that is was nothing more than FLAT sandy dirt (which is the base all around the entire area) how is a player to be held responsible when the circumstances are hidden from them?

What is the role of the Rules Official standing right there the whole time? Would he incur a responsibility to advise a player that a bunker had been hidden from any common sense or reasonable perception, but was none the less still a bunker? Should he be held accountable for not moving the crowd further back in order for the perception of the Player to be unhindered?

I believe the PGA of America has made a judgement error and should step-up and accept responsibility for failing to properly address procedural issues the Dustin Johnson incident revealed.

The issues are not any of the ones you hear the PGA of America, or pundits, blab about. The issue singularly really is "where do the PGA officials accept responsibility for how they are unilaterally setting up the course?"

Or in Dustin's case the way the PGA Rules Officials handled the matter left a distinct impression to the public (as unintended as it would clearly be by PGA of America) that they really have digressed to "a mean spirited set-up for the Golfer," in other words, isn't it really more like the PGA of America is saying to the Players, "haha, we tricked you on that bunker. Fooled ya didn't we!" That is really how the public will ultimately view this more than not.

Even though the PGA of America has endeavored to apply a ruling equally and unequivocally, it has instead created a firestorm of ire amongst the Golfing community due to its intractability, and for what now appears to be its own refusal to accept any responsibility.

When in truth and fact, the PGA of America was solely responsible for hiding the nature of a bunker in existence in this particular case.

Dustin did not intentionally ground a club in a sand trap, just as the PGA of America did not intentionally "hide" or "disguise" the existence of a bunker. But that was the actual result.

The bunker was hidden from any common perception. Experienced former Pro players, now announcers, never once real time thought at first he was in a sand trap. The entire Whistling Straits area has a base on all grounds that is sandy.

Actually, couldn't one presume that Dustin was at the very least, ONLY on the edge of a sand trap, but not actually in it?

So in fact, perhaps he never really was "in" the bunker at all? Hence the ruling is egregious no matter which view you take.

This ruling by the PGA of America makes clear some very obvious process issues.

From a media relations stand-point; the PGA of America would have done its self a world of positive good, instead of the onslaught of disgust it generated instead, if it had ruled any of the following:

1) Dustin Johnson was adjacent to, but not actually in, a sand trap; or
2) Dustin Johnson had been in a sand trap, but the bunker was damaged as such so as to not be any way recognizable any longer as a sand trap and therefore was now ruled a "waste" bunker; or
3) The PGA of America was responsible for the control and appearance of the bunker, it had through the PGA's own process allowed the bunker to be have been obliterated as appearing as any sort of a sand trap, the PGA did not, but should have, either advised the player that there is a sand trap there and he was in it, and then removed the crowd far enough back to allow the player to reasonably perceive and assess the existence and dimensions of the sand trap, and then the Player would be held accountable therefrom. Hence the PGA grants relief to Dustin Johnson, for no player or person would have reasonably or prudently ever been able to perceive or distinguish that they were actually in a sand trap given the PGA of America's allowance for it to have been destroyed by the crowd. The PGA never intends to set course conditions in any manner that may give the slightest hint or appearance of trying to "trick" a player about the present conditions. The PGA of America accepts full responsibility and will address its procedure and policies for future events.

This would portray the PGA of America as a "class act" as well. For now, only Dustin Johnson is viewed by the public as a class act, and the PGA en toto is viewed negatively and has turned people off to the game of Golf; the very contradiction to the PGA of America's mission.

The PGA of America and the PGA TOUR are now in damage control mode, and loosing. The PGA of America is loosing for it is trying to "stick to its guns" instead of accepting responsibility as it should have all along.