Dustin Johnson's Two-Stroke Penalty: No One Person Is To Blame

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2010

KOHLER, WI - AUGUST 15:  A PGA of America rules official chats with Dustin Johnson (L) on the 18th green 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 Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

When any controversial error occurs, people are instinctively quick to point the finger at someone or something.

Blame, rather than thought or logical analysis, is our natural reaction.

When we feel as if a wrong has occurred, we immediately want someone or something held responsible.  

It’s either a case of it was his fault…or it was her fault…or it was their fault.

But more often than not, numerous factors ultimately contribute to any horrific blunder.  

And so goes the story of Dustin Johnson vs. the PGA of America.

Unless you’ve been completely detached from the golf world, or from the mainstream media for that matter, you will know that Dustin Johnson was penalized two strokes on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship on Sunday as a result of grounding his club in a bunker that he didn’t quite know was a bunker.

The two strokes that were added onto Johnson's 72-hole score cost him a spot a playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer for the PGA Championship title.

Now, here is the issue at hand:

1)      While holding a one-stroke lead over Watson and Kaymer Johnson pushed his tee shot 30 yards right of the 18th fairway.

2)      When he arrived at his ball it appeared to be sitting on piece of turf that had turned into a dust bowl as a result of 120,000+ spectators trampling on it for four consecutive days.

3)       Johnson took out a six iron, grounded his club and smashed his golf ball to the left side of the 18th green.

4)      After a solid chip, Johnson was unable to sink a six foot putt that would have given him his first major championship title.

5)      As Johnson was walking off the 18th green, he was approached by a PGA of America rules official and asked if he had grounded his club before hitting his second shot out of what Johnson thought was a piece of dusty, trampled down turf, but was actually one of the 1,000+ bunkers that almost comically appear at three-foot intervals throughout the entire piece of property that is a shining example of what’s wrong with modern day golf course design—hundreds of millions of dollars + thousands of bulldozers = a links golf course along Lake Michigan…not so fast fellas!

6)       Anyway, to make a long story, well, not quite as long, Johnson was penalized two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker that David Feherty described as looking more like a manger and was eliminated from the three-hole playoff with Watson and Kaymer.

Aaaand let the finger pointing begin.

It was the PGA of America’s fault for not labeling those bunkers as waste areas instead of bunkers.

It was Dustin Johnson's fault for not knowing the rules that the PGA of America posted in every locker and on every mirror throughout the entire clubhouse.

It was Dustin Johnson’s caddie’s fault for not knowing the rules of the course.

It was the marshall’s fault for not moving the gallery back far enough for Johnson to see that he was indeed standing in a bunker and not a manger.

It was everyone’s fault for not remembering what happened to Stuart Appleby on the same golf course six years ago at the 2004 PGA Championship.  Appleby’s ball also landed in one of the “mangers” outside of the ropes and he was penalized four strokes—two for removing a loose object in a bunker and two more for grounding his club.  Appleby eventually finished five strokes outside of a three-hole playoff that included eventual champion Vijay Sigh, Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard.  Needless to say, those four penalty strokes cost Appleby somewhere in the vicinity of $400,000.

So where are we meant to point our blame here?  After all, we HAVE to point the finger somewhere for what occurred on the 72nd hole on Sunday.

The fact of the matter is that, like most unfortunate incidents, the blame falls on several sides and there was a bit of fate and bad timing mixed into the boiling pot as well.

First and foremost, Johnson should have known the rules.  The PGA of America did everything but post this particular rule about the bunkers outside of the ropes on player’s foreheads.

Yes, Johnson was in the heat of battle, and yes, that dusty piece of turf looked more like a manger than a bunker. But, Johnson was still responsible for knowing that he may have possibly been in a bunker, and that he could have clarified his options with a rules official.

Second, the PGA of America should have declared these bunkers as waste areas to begin with.

There is no logical reason why trampled down bunkers sitting outside of the ropes should not have been declared waste areas.

The PGA of America will tell you that it was almost impossible to declare these bunkers as waste areas because many of them fell half inside the ropes and half outside.

However, in hindsight, the PGA of America’s bigwigs would have slept a lot better on Sunday night if they had simply rearrange some of the spectator ropes rather than declaring all “sand” on the golf course, whether identifiable bunkers or not, as in fact “bunkers”.

Third, the marshall should have given Johnson far more room that he did.

Had the marshall cleared the crowds back another 10 feet or so, Johnson just might have realized that he was indeed standing in a bunker and not on a piece of turf that had been trampled down to dust bowl by the hordes of spectators.

Fourth, Johnson’s caddie should have known the rules.  Part of a caddie’s job is to think about the types of things that players don’t typically think about during the heat of battle.  Such as, does he have the right number of clubs in his bag; is he using a conforming golf ball; and is he in a hazard or not?

All are to blame or none are to blame, depending upon how you look at the situation.

But, like most unfortunate situations, the blame actually falls on several fronts, and when combined with a little bit of fate and bad timing, we get one of the most memorable blunders in the history of the sport…and most human beings simply don’t possess enough fingers to point in every necessary direction for this one.

Oh, and by the way, Martin Kaymer won his first major championship on Sunday, thus making him this generation's Bob Goalby.


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