Dustin Johnson Wins – USGA Loses

Dustin Johnson Wins The 116th United States Open Championship while the USGA lost a great deal of public support. An on-the-spot ruling by one rules official (Mark Newell) is overturned when Jeff Hall, managing director of rules & competitions for the USGA and USGA senior director of Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, Thomas Pagel saw the video that “raised doubt”.  The top echelon of players and commentators all quickly responded to call the ruling, ridiculous, a farce, laughable,  and a joke….to name a few. So what happened?

If you’ve been under an immovable obstruction for the past week and missed the U.S. Open, we’re talking about an occurrence on the green on the fifth hole in the final round when DJs ball moved (maybe 1/8 revolution) backward prior to his putting address. He had soled his club beside the ball, taken a couple of practice strokes, soled it again and moved it behind the ball when the ball moved. He backed off and and made his playing opponent, Lee Westwood, aware of what happened. He asked for an official ruling. When Mark Newell (rules official) was summoned to the green by DJ, he asked DJ if he had done anything to cause the movement and if he had addressed the ball. Both DJ and Westwood told the official no. The official told DJ to play it as it lies and did not assess a penalty at that time. On the 12th tee box (7 holes later), the USGA’s Jeff Hall and Thomas Pagel advised DJ they had reviewed video of the occurrence and could “possibly” assess a one stroke penalty at the tend of play. DJ had a one stroke lead at that time.

First question for us confused amateurs….1. Are greens rolling a 15 on the stimpmeter really too fast for  play? 2. If the rules official attending the occurrence didn’t see the need to assess a penalty, should that have been the end of it? 3. How did it take 7 holes  to advise DJ there “may” be a penalty? 4. Why would they even dare tell him at that point they “may” asses the penalty? 5. How in the world would there be a questionable  ruling in the final round of a championship tournament when, in the words of Thomas Pagel there is obviously doubt? The USGA officials seemed very comfortable in their ruling. What if this had cost DJ the championship? To this writer and hoards of other amateurs and players, this was an embarrassment for the USGA. Fortunately DJ bailed them out by winning by multiple strokes after their ridiculous penalty.

In this writer’s opinion rule 18.2 needs a lot of work along with some changes to the way penalties are assessed. 18.2 was recently re-written to better handle situations where wind (and possibly other things) could cause the ball to move after a player has addressed. Having been put to the test in this U.S. Open Championship….it failed and the assessment procedure was…unfortunate at best.  Basically the rule is subjective. If the rules official thinks the player was more likely than not to have caused the movement, they can decide to asses a penalty. There’s no majority opinion required….or like in the case of criminal law, reasonable doubt that he didn’t cause it to move. If there is a 51% chance (Thomas Pagel’s words) the rules officials can call foul. I don’t know about you, but that seems more than a tad bit unfair to the player, especially when there is so much on the line.

It is too bad that many of us are reporting on this fiasco rather than the amazing game played by Dustin Johnson. The approach shot on number 18…a 193 yard 6 iron to 3 feet and the birdie putt that followed was one of the best finishes I’ve ever seen….especially when considering the baggage handed DJ on the 12th tee.

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