Revisting The Dustin Johnson Episode, Because We Need To

In the August Golf Digest, Ron Whitten does an excellent job counting the number of hazards at 2015 PGA venue Whistling Straits while revisiting the whole bunker fiasco as idea behind playing all sand as a bunker.

Many will not enjoy the dredging up of this unfortunate moment, but considering that Johnson is a pre-tournament favorite and the incident has never sat well with anyone registering a pulse, it won't hurt to to rehash this as we return to the Straits Course. If nothing else, the talk will serve as a public service reminder to all players to not touch any area of sand with their club before impact.

There was this from Whitten's piece on DJ's odd episode, which ultimately ended up involving his brief, barely discernable pre-shot routine club grounding, not a grounding behind the ball to improve his lie. The randomness and lack of intent makes the entire thing that much more regretable.

Johnson told officials he thought he was in a patch of rough trampled by the gallery. Trouble is, every patch of sand at Whistling Straits is considered a bunker. The course looks like a links in towering sand dunes along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan, but in a previous life, the site was a flat Army air base, crisscrossed by concrete roadways and runways and containing the type of bunkers in which ammunition was stored. When Dye starting transforming it, he found no pure sand on site. The soil was rocky and mostly clay--even the beach was mostly rock--so Dye had 13,126 truckloads of sand hauled in.

Again, in Johnson's defense, photos taken before the Straits opened in 1998 show some of the faux dunes created by Dye were covered in sand, which had been dumped and spread in an apparent attempt to make them appear as natural sand dunes. But then tall fescue grasses overtook them, and the hillsides went from white and barren to green and wavy (golden in the fall). But in 2010, spectators' wear patterns might well have exposed some of that thin layer of sand.

This bit is highlighted not to dispute the findings in 2010, but to just remind all how peculiar the situation is given that the game on links evolved with a "play it as it lies" mantra and the PGA adopted this philosophy at Kiawah for the 2012 PGA, yet not at Whistling Straits. Whitten writes:

Player confusion might lie in the fact that this all-sand-is-a-bunker rule isn't universal. The opposite rule was applied at the 2012 PGA at Dye's Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., where nothing was considered a bunker. All sand was considered a "transition area," and players could ground their club anywhere. It also differs from the rule the USGA applied at last year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where only sand having rake marks was considered a bunker. All other patches of exposed sand were treated as "through the green," and a final determination was left with the rules official accompanying each group.

From the archives, if you want to relive the episode, there was this post on intent that might be worth a minute of your time. And this from Pete Dye, who would have none of it when talking about Johnson not recognizing he was in a bunker.

"I was standing right there," Dye said. "When he hit the ball in the bunker, the referee walked up to him and said, 'Do you need anything?' and Dustin said, 'No, I'm good.' There were no beer cans in the bunker, there were no chicken bones in there. Ray Charles could have seen it was a bunker."

The CBS coverage from back then showing the "split second" grounding, as Nick Faldo called it. Feherty's return to the bunker after the episode is telling in how (A) many people didn't understand the local rule (B) and how much he felt for Johnson in trying to ID the bunker as a bunker.

Five years later, it seems as if this episode ultimately still feels unresolved because the rule seems so contrary to the spirit of the game, especially since it was so clear that the situation was frenetic, uncontrolled and carrying such hugh ramifications.

“I have quit plenty of times but never have I faked an injury and the guys here know it."

Thanks to John Strege for an always-fun Monday roundup and in particular, highlighting this Andrew Both item on John Daly's epic defense of his WDitis:

“All I know is I’ve never ever faked an injury on this tour,” the two-time major winner told Reuters after shooting a two-under-par 68 at the Wyndham Championship on Thursday that left him seven strokes off the pace.

“I have quit plenty of times but never have I faked an injury and the guys here know it … when you’re hurt, you’re hurt. I wasn’t playing great at the PGA but I still had 11 holes left (in the second round).”

Yes, they know you're a quitter alright!

Rules Of Golf Outrage Going Viral

I'm not sure if this speaks to a general disdain for the rules or maybe just the power of ESPN.com, but as happened during the last freakish golf story (Tiger and his women), an item about the Dustin Johnson violation has landed in my email box in three different chain email forwards in the last two days. The text does not include a byline, but unlike in the Tiger case, this one is real and it can't be spoofed because we know the incident was already teetering on the edge of farcical.
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"DJ took about four minutes from the time he arrived to the scene to the second he made contact with it."

Stephanie Wei interviews photographer Allan Henry, who could be seen in several images directly behind Dustin Johnson when he violated the rules in the 18th hole bunker. Henry says Johnson never grounded his club on his practice swings and also notes this, which might be of interest to those who think Johnson rushed the shot.

According to the time stamp on Allan’s pictures, DJ took about four minutes from the time he arrived to the scene to the second he made contact with it. In those few minutes, he had the marshals move the crowd, take a few practice swings, make a few jokes with the gallery and then hit it.

Another PGA Question: Who Wants To Return To Whistling Straits?

Definitely not the media!

And the player comments haven't exactly been glowing. Not that this means anything. After all, we know that complaints about a course can often be a compliment to the architecture. But after another four rounds at WS, I'm not sensing it really is worthy of a return visit. Yet a 2015 return date looms and a few days removed from the PGA, I've had the pleasure of listening to several phone rants from folks who found the entire week to be one they'd like to forget.

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Dustin Johnson and Intent**

One reason the Dustin Johnson penalty is not sitting well: he did not test the sand in the bunker. He did not intend to violate the rule. That said, he violated the rule. No question. But in a few well-known cases of late, rules officials have allowed intent to influence their decision to not penalize a player. Rory McIlroy kicking sand at the Masters and Kenny Perry mashing down rough behind his ball in Phoenix come to mind. (There is an old post with stellar comments well worth going back and reading for those interested in the intent debate, including one by Tom Kirkendall that will make you giggle at its prescience.)

While I understand the rule in question and the violation by Johnson, why isn't intent allowed to play a role here? After all, the only reason we know about this incident is because it happened on camera. The walking rules official did not see the violation happen and Johnson was not going to call a penalty on himself because he didn't realize he committed one. Had this happened Thursday off camera, no penalty would likely have been incurred. So since we have the addition of cameras, tape and viewers calling in, leading to penalties like this, shouldn't the rules also allow for that tape to take intent into account? It seems that precedent has already been set with the statements in the McIlroy and Perry episodes? No?

Rules gurus, please set me straight!

"just a small notice."

So much for Germans dancing in the streets over Martin Kaymer's PGA Championship win. Reader Lloyd emailed a friend in Germany and shared his exchange.

Your excellent young golfer Martin Kaymer won the final major of the golf year yesterday

Did anyone in Germany watch or notice?

He was very good BTW, but this is no surprise

L

And the reply:

:-) I did not hear anything about this :-)
but dirk read about it in the newspaper. just a small notice.
g