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The Penalty

August 18, 2010 - Al Stephenson

The two shot penalty handed to Dustin Johnson Sunday in the PGA Championship on the 72nd hole that prevented him from being in a three way playoff is a hot topic still.  My friends were talking about it today and all the arguments have been shopped as to why Johnson got jobbed.  Problem is - he didn't. 

The rules of golf are many, but this one is pretty simple.  You cannot ground your club in a bunker.  The penalty for doing so is two strokes.  Johnson violated the rule, he was penalized - end of conversation.  Were there extenuating circumstances?  You bet.  Does that matter?  No.  And it shouldn't.

It is true that Whistling Straits has more bunkers than any golf course in the world.  It is true that this particular bunker was located outside the gallery ropes.  It is true that spectators had trampled this bunker to the point that it did not give the appearance of a bunker.  It is also true that fans were standing in the bunker when Johnson hit his shot.  All of these truths mean that there were extenuating circumstances.  And it still does not matter.

How did this all come to pass.  There were three people at the site of the violation.  The rules official that accompanied the pairing of Johnson and Nick Watney was concerned with clearing a path for Johnson's shot.  He assumed Johnson knew he was in a bunker.  Could he have warned Johnson about the situation?  Yes.  Did he have to?  No.  Should he have?  Maybe, but I just mentioned why he didn't bother to do so.

Johnson's caddy could have told his golfer about the situation.  He, however, was busy trying to give Johnson the correct yardage.  Johnson himself was busy with trying to figure out how he could get the ball near the green to get up and down for a major title.  It is easy for me to see how each was distracted to the point that an honest mistake was made.  I wouldn't blame any of them for the situation.  Ultimately, Johnson is the one who bears responsibility for the gaffe and to his credit he has accepted that fact.

When the whole thing unfolded, I was reminded of a situation in high school cross country many years ago.  A girl from Archbold (Rachel Souder was her name as I recall) went to Columbus for the state cross country meet.  She was not just another runner.  She was a senior and three time defending state champion.

At the meet, she reportedly asked a tournament official if she could wear multi-colored tights under her uniform.  The official said she could, even though the rules specifically stated that tights must be all one color.  The young lady beat the field for a fourth consecutive year only to be disqualified because of the tights.

A howl of protest followed, but the OHSAA declined her appeal.  The rule is the rule she was told.  Her contention that a meet official gave her permission was rejected as a reason to overturn the penalty handed out by the ruling body and even Sports Illustrated gave the OHSAA a thumbs down for its decision.  The decision stood however and my (CC running) students at New Riegel had little sympathy for her.  I personally thought the meet official should have lost his job and perhaps he did.

The view from my seat is that bunkergate was a tough pill to swallow for fans of golf and particularly for Dustin Johnson.  It was however handled correctly and I think we all need to move on.

That's something that Dustin Johnson has already done.


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