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Posted June 20, 2016 in From The Tours by Tom Brassell
OAKMONT, PENNSYLVANIA | The USGA owes itself a disqualification penalty and a heartfelt apology to Dustin Johnson. Golf’s governing body has insinuated itself into every U.S. Open in recent history, manipulating course conditions and tricked-up setups.
But this time, it has committed an unforgivable crime. A decision – after the close of play – had the potential to irrevocably decide the U.S. Open. And Johnson didn’t deserve any of it.
Johnson, on the fifth green, saw his ball move ever so slightly before he putted. But he had not soled the putter on the green behind the ball – the classic definition of addressing a putt. He called the rules official walking with his group – Mark Newell, who is the chairman of the USGA Rules Committee – and was cleared of any penalty. He was told to play his stroke from the place where the ball came to rest.
However, on the 12th hole, Johnson was approached by Jeff Hall, managing director of rules and competition for the USGA, and was told that, after reviewing the video, there might – might – be cause for a penalty. And Johnson was to be taken to review the video before a decision would be made – when play ended. As it turned out, the decision already had been made, which makes this even worse. They just wanted Johnson to see it on video.
This is as egregious a blunder as has ever been seen in championship golf. Johnson was forced to play the rest of his round with this news in the front of his mind and hanging like the sword of Damocles over his neck. The USGA was irresponsible at the very least and if it was a group of doctors, it would be guilty of malpractice.
How must Johnson have felt carrying around the burden of the knowledge that a major championship could be snatched away from him by a decision of a rules official?
That notion is fundamentally wrong when it comes to virtually every athletic competition. The players, not the officials, should decide the outcome. And the USGA inserted itself where it didn’t belong.
Players took to Twitter to excoriate the USGA. And rightly so.
Rory McIlroy: “This is ridiculous … No penalty whatsoever for DJ. Let the guy play without this crap in his head. Amateur hour from @USGA”
Jordan Spieth: “Lemme get this straight. DJ doesn’t address it. It’s ruled that he didn’t cause it to move. Now you tell him he may have? Now? This a joke?”
Ernie Els: “@USGA treatment of
@DJohnsonPGA absolutely shocking. No way he made the ball move.”
Johnson, at the very least, deserved a decision on the spot as to whether he would receive a penalty. In no way should he have had to play on with that kind of uncertainty. At most, the video of the situation should not have been reviewed at all. Johnson was cleared by Newell, the walking rules official, and that should have been the final word.
This is fundamental to the Rules of Golf. The player has the final responsibility. Johnson told Newell what happened and Newell agreed no penalty was necessary. What else do you need?
“They said they were going to look at it when we got done,” Johnson said. “I felt like I wasn’t going to be penalized, so I just went about my business. Just focused on the drive on 12 and from there on out, that we’d deal with when we got done.”
Almost immediately after Johnson was informed of the potential penalty, the rest of the players on the course were told of the situation. Shane Lowry said it didn’t affect the way he played but was empathetic with Johnson.
“If anything, I credit Dustin for playing the way he played on the way in, having that hanging over him, because I probably would have wanted to know straightaway if it was me,” Lowry said.
For Johnson’s part, he was happy that the penalty played no part in the outcome.
“It doesn’t matter now, but – and I’m glad it didn’t matter because that would have been bad,” Johnson said. “But, you know, it worked out.”
Thank goodness. If this championship had been decided by a clumsy, ham-handed interpretation of the Rules of Golf and the way they are administered, it would have gone down in history as one of the most unfair outcomes of all time.
The fact that Johnson’s command of the final few holes and the crumbling of the chasers ensured the right outcome does not let the USGA off the hook whatsoever. This was wrong, dead wrong and the governing body needs to take a close look at governing itself to make certain such a travesty never, ever has the opportunity to happen again.
By: Mike Purkey – Global Golf Post