Watching Dustin Johnson erase the “5” on his scorecard was downright heartbreaking. The high from all the drama on Sunday afternoon and the anticipation of a thrilling finish was shattered shortly after the controversial bunker ruling that pulled Johnson from a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.
Despite the confusion and fog delays, the PGA Championship had shaped up to become the most exciting major of the season. No disrespect to either Graeme McDowell or Louis Oosthuizen, but their wins didn’t exactly have people on the edge of their seats. The confusion, chaos and idiosyncrasies (or unique circumstances) of the absurdly contrived course, particularly with nearly a thousand bunkers that came in all shapes and sizes, quickly erupted into sympathy for Johnson, outrage, and more confusion.
Last Monday I only needed to walk a hole and a half until I decided that I disliked the excessive, pointless bunkers strewn throughout Whistling Straits. Even if Johnson, Phil or Woods hit their wildest of drives, many of the sand traps don’t even come into play — there are some scattered next to tee boxes and others bombarded on the hillsides. What the hell for? The visual effect, of course. In fact, the majority of the 967 bunkers are garnish.
Owner Herb Kohler’s dream was to build a stunning “Irish-links course” on a former farm next to Lake Michigan. And he had the means to give Pete Dye nearly an unlimited budget to manufacture a visually beautiful course, which meant building over a thousand bunkers (there were 1,400 in ’04).
What? He grounded his club in a bunker on 18? What bunker? How did he miss the bunker and how did the hundreds of people surrounding him miss it? Where was his caddie Bobby Brown? Where was the walking rules official? Why didn’t the marshals do a better job of clearing the way? Why were spectators standing in the bunkers?
The lines at Whistling Straits were blurred because of the unusual layout and the pseudo-unreasonable local rules — all areas that were designed and built as sand bunkers would be played as bunkers even if they were outside the ropes or half-in-and-half-out, and included footprints, tire tracks, children at play and sand castles.
This unpopular rule among the players was noted on fliers posted in the locker room (though Ian Poulter and Bo Van Pelt both said they missed it). Still, they’re responsible for reading and learning the local rules, It’s undeniable Johnson broke a rule, but there’s plenty of blame to divvy up.
Ultimately, it’s supposed to be up to the player (or the scoring trailer or the Tv compound). If there’s ever any question, ask for clarification from the walking rules official. Johnson admitted his ignorance, unique to the peculiar layout of Whistling Straits.
“I guess I should have looked at the rules sheet a little harder,” he admitted. (Even though DJ wasn’t the only one that didn’t read the notices in the locker room — neither did Nick Watney or Ian Poulter — and how many other players do you want to guess who weren’t in the final group made the same mistake unknowingly?). Well, he shouldn’t have hit his drive there to begin with, but since he did, he should have been more cognizant of his surroundings and maintained his focus instead of cracking jokes with the gallery (which was refreshing, but do you want to be liked or do you want to win?).
“I never thought I was in a sand trap,” Johnson said. “I looked at it a lot and it never crossed my mind that I was in a bunker. I just thought I was on a piece of dirt the crowd had trampled down. It never once crossed my mind that I was in a bunker. Obviously I know the Rules of Golf, and I can’t ground my club in a bunker.”
After a few days of thousands of people stomping and standing in the tiny sandy pits, it was difficult to distinguish between the bunkers and the rugged terrain. The local rules sheet noted, “Where necessary, blue dots defined the margin of a bunker.” Um, I was out on the course and I didn’t see any blue dots around anything resembling sand. (How do you even mark every questionable bunker when there are almost a thousand?) And I assume most the bunkers that needed clarification were in areas outside the ropes and trampled by spectators. Throughout the week, I stood and sat in little holes of dirt and noticed various areas of hard pan — inside the ropes which had endured many less feet — that resembled DJ’s lie.
It’s not a question of whether or not he was actually in bunker anymore since we’ve seen pictures of the now famous bunker post-DJ incident, it’s also an issue that hundreds of fans were standing in and around it (see picture above). From Johnson’s view, he could only probably see 1/8 of the” bunker, which didn’t include the lip. Instead, it was a dirt hole. There were clumps of grass sticking up and no clear definition of where the bunker starts. With the thousands of spectators that flocked toward the area where his ball landed, the commotion could have easily kicked the sand over the lip.
That said, the myriad of pointless bunkers in Dye’s so-called masterpiece combined with Kohler’s wallet and ego have turned Whistling Straits into a modern American farce. But hey, at least the golf course looks stunning on television.
[Photo by Kyle Auclair/insidetheropes.com]