Aug
18
2010
Bunker-Gate: a Report From Inside the Bunker
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship

Photographer (and my friend) Allan Henry of Golf Chronicles / US Presswire was kneeling four to five feet behind Dustin Johnson when he grounded his club on the 18th hole. Allan was so close to DJ that he was almost hit by DJ’s club in one of his practice swings. When he first arrived at the scene, he said it was “pretty nuts” with the amount of people that had congregated in the area.

Initially, he set up where the other photographers had — looking toward Johnson — but he knew there were something like 15 photographers following the group, so he figured he’d try to get behind the ball. A few polite Wisconsinites moved to make room for him. But as he was walking toward the ball, he instinctively snapped a few shots of it lying on the ground. Like this one.

From Allan’s perspective, he wasn’t thinking if DJ was in a bunker or not — he was thinking of how he was going to capture the moment, not to mention avoid getting hit by Johnson’s club. On Monday night as he was going through his pictures at the scene, he texted me, “It’s clearly a bunker, no question.”

He remembers that Johnson never grounded his club during his practice swings (which I explained was probably because most players don’t if they’re on hard pan or dirt in the case it might cause the ball to move).

“At that moment, with how he played and what he had done, nobody thought to take an extra couple of minutes,” said Allan. Everyone was living in that second. It’s somebody’s responsibility to step back and go, ‘What are we missing here?’ The most relevant part of this is that it’s the golfer’s responsibility to know what the rule is and to take some more time.”

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.

Allan wonders what would have happened if DJ would have taken a little more time. He described DJ as “relaxed, loose and almost jovial,” “I don’t think his pulse was above 65,” he said. “The immensity of the moment didn’t get to him. Maybe it should have gotten to him. Maybe he should have said to the gallery, ‘Can you guys move a little bit?'”

There was no tension in the air. If it hadn’t been for the gallery, Allan said it felt like a practice round — not the 72nd hole of a major championship with Johnson having a one-stroke lead.

“When I’m in a similar situation with Tiger, he’s moving people,” he said. “Tiger doesn’t joke or talk to people in that situation. He’s thinking what he has to do. He goes through a mental checklist of stuff.”

When Allan heard on Sirius XM radio that Johnson may have grounded his club, his first instinct was to return to the scene to see where he had been sitting and to tell officials that Johnson didn’t ground the club in his practice swings. He thought Johnson knew it was a hazard, which was why his practice swings were in the air about ankle high.

“The whole area was enclosed with people by the time I got back up there about a half-hour after he hit the shot,” Allan described. “People were literally standing inside the area DJ was standing from. Someone wrote a note, ‘This is not a bunker.’ At that stage when I was standing there, I couldn’t see any of the contours because people were in it. My first thought was they should have cleared out the people. But when I looked at my pictures, it looked like there were enough people cleared out because you can see the contours.

“Do I feel bad for Dustin? Without question, I feel bad for him. But that’s the thing about golf, you call penalties on yourself, it’s about knowing the rules, moralities and awareness. It’s about the lessons of life.”

I’m pretty sure DJ will be a little more cautious in the future. Thing is, he did know the rule and he did know that bunkers inside and outside the ropes were hazards — Johnson just didn’t recognize that he was in a bunker. And therein lies the problem.

[Photos by Allan Henry/Golf Chronicles]