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Bad Call: A Blown Official Decision Costs Dustin Johnson a Major Victory

Patrick Runge@@patrickrungeCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2010

KOHLER, WI - AUGUST 15:  Dustin Johnson prepares to play his second shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the 92nd PGA Championship on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits on August 15, 2010 in Kohler, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Congratulations to Martin Kaymer for winning the PGA Championship in dramatic style. But Dustin Johnson got screwed.

Here's what happened. Johnson had a one-shot lead going into the final hole of the tournament, leading Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

He pushed his drive way right, and ended up on a sandy patch of ground that the gallery had been standing on for the last four days.

Johnson goes up to the ball, strikes a beauty, and ends up bogeying the hole and going to a three-way playoff.

Or so we thought. As Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend.

The PGA officials came up and informed Johnson that the sandy patch he was standing on might be considered a bunker, meaning that if Johnson touched his club on the sand he would have to take a two-shot penalty.

The officials conferred, reviewed the tapes, and ultimately decided that the sandy area was a bunker, and that Johnson grounded his club in it. Thus, Johnson was assessed a two-shot penalty and was knocked out of the playoff.

That's golf, right? Tough decisions happen all the time, and Johnson happened to fall victim to one at the worst time.

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Again, not so fast, my friend. The 2010-11 USGA Rules of Golf define a bunker as a "hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like." (emphasis added)

So, for the patch of ground in which Johnson's ball landed to be considered a bunker, the course designer would have had to REMOVE turf or soil and put sand or the like in its place.

Look at the shot Johnson makes again. Go ahead, I'll wait. When the club makes contact with the ground, it kicks up a cloud of dirt. In my experience playing golf, I've seen that cloud a bunch of times, and it happens when I've put the ball off the fairway and onto a bare patch in the rough.

(Of course, my shots off that dirt rarely fly 170+ yards and land like a dart on the green to remain in contention for a major championship. But that's beside the point.)

I cannot conceive of a circumstance where a course designer would have REMOVED any kind of turf or soil and replaced it with that sand. They might have put a little sand down on a bare patch, but if that's the case, then the area isn't a bunker according to the Rules of Golf.

In fairness, the rules committee did warn the players before the tournament started that there may be bunkers where the gallery was standing, and to play them accordingly.

That decision was made after a previous tournament came into some controversy when a player tried to play a sand area as a waste bunker, which has different rules than a regular bunker.

That caused quite a kerfuffle, and the rules committee apparently wanted to avoid that controversy again.

Whoops. When pressed after the decision was made, the somewhat-glib response from the committee was "they're all bunkers."

Really? Did you tell the players that EVERY collection of more than 25 grains of sand would be considered a bunker? Or were you just overreacting to the last controversy in an attempt to save face?

Here's what ESPN.com reported was posted outside of the clubhouse about the bunkers on the course:

1. Bunkers: 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.

 

Note 1: The sand area in front, left and behind No. 5 green in the later water hazard is NOT a bunker (do not move stones).

Note 2: Where necessary, blue dots define the margin of a bunker.

Hmm. No "they're all bunkers" in that notice. I still have a very hard time believing that little patch had turf removed and sand added.

And I sure don't remember seeing any blue dots defining the margin of the "bunker" that Johnson supposedly grounded his club in.

Had the decision not been made, Johnson would have been in a three-way playoff with Kaymer and Watson. It may very well be that Kaymer would have won the playoff anyway. But we'll never know.

To his credit, Johnson came out and handled the media questions like a real pro. I'm not sure I would have been able to refrain from colorful metaphors to describe the official's decision.

But that's one of about a thousand reasons why I am not a professional golfer.

But Johnson suffered from a rules committee overanxious to correct what they felt was a mistake from a previous tournament.

In doing so, they ended up making a decision they didn't have to make, and ensured that the legacy of this year's PGA Championship will be the official's decision, not the ultimate winner.