PGA gets controversial call correct
In a world where a lot of people don’t follow the rules, Dustin Johnson’s two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in what looked like a very scraggly, marginal bunker at Whistling Straits seemed a little over the top during Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship.
Especially when that ruling cost Johnson a chance to join Germany’s Martin Kaymer, a part-time Scottsdale resident, and Bubba Watson, a full-time Scottsdale resident, in a three-hole playoff for the Wannamaker Trophy.
Fans actually booed the decision, and more than one screamed, “You were robbed’’ as Johnson exited the course following a 20-minute scrum with PGA rules officials to determine if Johnson had indeed grounded his club.
But in a game where a lot of people do follow the rules, Johnson was ultimately found guilty, and could only watch as Kaymer rallied to beat Watson with a bogey on the third extra hole. It marked the second heartbreak of the season for Johnson, who blew a three-shot lead during the final round of the U.S. Open.
What never was in question was a rules sheet that was given to each and every player participating in the PGA that specifically said that all sandy areas should be treated as if they were one of Whistling Straits’ 1,200-plus bunkers. Even though many thought Johnson was in a “waste bunker’’ because people had been walking in it, he actually was in a bonified hazard – or as he called it a “sand trap.’’
“I guess I should have looked at the rules sheet a little harder,’’ Johnson said in a quote that ranks right up there with Roberto de Vincenzo’s “What a stupid I am,’’ and Phil Mickelson’s, “I am so stupid.’’
But give Johnson credit, too. He owned up to grounding the club — twice! — and didn’t even ask for a TV replay. Mark Wilson, the co-chair for the PGA of America’s rules committee, said of Johnson’s reaction to the ruling, “He was a gentleman.’’
There had been precedent for the ruling, as Stuart Appleby incurred similar penalties during Saturday’s third round, taking both a two-shot penalty for grounding a club as well as a two-shot penalty for removing a loose impediment from the very same bunker.
“It never once crossed my mind that I was in a sand trap,’’ said Johnson, whose score on the final hole was changed from a bogey to a triple bogey as he finished tied for fifth at 9-under, or two shots shy of the 11-under 277 posted by Kaymer and Watson.
How could Johnson make such a colossal mistake? According to his playing partner, Nick Watney, who took a three-shot lead into Sunday’s final round and imploded with an 81, such oversights happen all the time in professional golf.
“I don’t think anyone reads the rules sheet,’’ Watney said in the aftermath. “We get hundreds of rules sheets, and nobody reads them.’’
But according to Pete Dye, the architect of Whistling Straits, the PGA made the correct ruling.
“It was a bunker, one of 1,200,’’ Dye said with a chuckle when asked by The Golf Channel if the sandy spot on the knoll was intended to be such a hazard. “I think the PGA did a good job of making the kids aware of that.’’
Asked if he felt the bunkers should be kept as they are or cut back due to the smallness/indescriptness of many of them when the PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits in 2015, Dye just laughed.
“Maybe we’ll add a few more,’’ said the diabolical Dye.
In the mean time, most people will always remember the bizarre ruling that cost Dustin Johnson the opportunity to win his first major championship. Granted, “DJ’’ is only 26, but two major setbacks in one season is a lot to deal with even if you’re young and carefree.
Whether or not they remember Kaymer’s impressive performance in winning his first major, which included saving par on the last two holes to force the playoff, remains to be seen. But at 25, the equally big/strong Kaymer has made a huge leap that some might argue came at Johnson’s expense.