I Wuz Robbed! PGA Tournament Leader Gets Knocked Out on a Technicality

[tweetmeme]With a nod to the phrase attributed to the manager of boxer Max Schmeling who clearly out-boxed Jack Sharkey in 1932 but lost the heavyweight title, was golfer Dustin Johnson robbed of chance to win the PGA Championship on Sunday on a course studded with more than 1,000 bunkers?

Was Dustin Johnson robbed of a major title?

If you didn’t watch, Johnson was leading until the 18th hole, when he lost a shot but gained a chance for a 3-way playoff for the championship.  Not to be.  Officials told him that he had grounded his club in a bunker, which is not allowed.  As the stunned TV commentators stated, the area certainly didn’t look like a bunker – it was tiny piece of earth trampled for four days by spectators.  Instead of a chance for glory, Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty and finished fifth.

The Rules of Play clearly state that areas designed as bunkers will be inside as well as outside the ropes (where his ball landed) and signs were posted in the locker room, so Johnson, as he admitted, should have been more careful.  However, the commentators didn’t mention, nor have I seen anything in the press (it’s late Sunday night) about blue dots defining the margin of a bunker “where necessary,” according to the Rules.  Well, this forlorn patch of ground seemed deserving of the dots.

Here is the thing:  should a PGA official have communicated to the golfer that he was in a bunker and not just on a scrap of land with no clearly defined boundaries?  What about the rules of fair play?  This was the opportunity of a lifetime for a young, and upcoming golfer.  On the very last hole of the tournament, would telling him be bending the rules?

What do you think?

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  1. Jeannette,

    Here is my position.

    I believe that both Johnson and the PGA were at fault here. Johnson even said he should have read the rules more closely. The PGA should have had someone out on that pile of dirt (which looked like grass that had been trampled on) and reminded Johnson that he was in a “bunker”. (Of course, the whole course was a bunker).

    I just wonder…if this had been Tiger Woods, do you think an official would have been out there saying…”Oh…Tiger…remember…you are in the bunker…so don’t put your club in the bunker.”

    Also…I could continue ranting…but as someone who has watched and played golf for 20 years and watched competitive golf for 16 with my son, when was the last time you saw SPECTATORS standing IN THE BUNKER drinking beer. Also…where was the darn bunker rake?

    Okay…done ranting.

  2. Bea — I understand and agree with your rant. I’ve subsequently learned “it is not against the rules” for an official to tell a golfer he is in a hazard, according to a follow-up story in The New York Times about this controversy. The article states that David Rice, a rules official, was accompanying Dustin Johnson’s group, and “he approached Johnson as he surveyed his second shot and asked if he needed anything. Johnson wanted the crowd moved. After that was done, Price walked away….” Later Price was quoted by the Times as saying, “You don’t remind a player on every hole that you can’t ground your club.” What was Price thinking when he saw that the crowd had trampled the bunker into oblivion? He didn’t think it would be a courtesy — and we all know the PGA and pro golfers are sticklers for honesty — to point that out to the leader of a major that he was in a bunker on the 18th hole? Shame on him.

  3. Jeannette,

    Yes…rules officials can offer advice, but it is not common for rules officials to offer unsolicited advice. The article points out that the officials are there as a convenience to the players…mostly to answer questions. So, this is a grey area for sure.

    In Junior and College golf, the players call the offical for a ruling….they drive out and then help. It is very hard for them to be everywhere on every shot.

    Bea