Jun
20
2016
Dustin Johnson wins U.S. Open despite rules farce
By Stephanie Wei under US Open

It wouldn’t be a major championship with Dustin Johnson in contention if there weren’t some type of ridiculous drama involved — whether it was trying to chip left-handed and imploding in the final round to lose a three-shot lead (2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach), grounding his club on the 72nd hole in the controversial bunker-not-a-bunker debacle (2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits), hitting a 4-iron out-of-bounds coming down the stretch (2011 Open Championship at Royal St Georges), three-putting from 12 feet on the 72nd hole on “bumpy” greens to miss out on an 18-hole playoff against Jordan Spieth (2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay), and posting two scores over par after holding the 36-hole lead (2015 Open Championship at St Andrews).

The rules gaffes, the course management errors, the unlucky breaks and the mental lapses that turned potential major championship victories into close calls and heartbreaking losses were starting to add up for the 31-year-old Johnson, best known for his athletic prowess and freakish ability to just absolutely pound the ball off the tee. He was certainly one of the top players yet to win a major, but he hadn’t reached the point where it was a question of whether he would ever be able to pull it off. Almost, but not quite.

DJ always managed to shrug off the disappointments that probably would have absolutely crushed nearly anyone else. We wondered if he had the ability and the patience to plot his way around a U.S. Open setup, not to mention at Oakmont, the most challenging course on the planet. It helps when he bashes the ball over 350 yards and overpowers them with his freaky length.

Each time he had a crushing defeat, he always said he got over it right away. He also always said he let things go almost immediately. He basically said he has a short-term memory — which is truly an advantage when it comes to golf. I believed him the first couple of times, but it was beginning to reach the point where I wondered if the scar tissue was building up. I didn’t think he was in the same category as, say, Sergio Garcia or Lee Westwood — both wonderful players and people whom I’d love to see win a major.

“I don’t think he has to get out of his own way, I think he just has to keep doing what he’s doing,” said Kevin Kisner, who grew up playing with and against DJ.

Truer, more simple words couldn’t describe DJ and the situation any better. Well, finally, he overcame his demons, Oakmont, the USGA and the field to secure his first major title.

“I couldn’t be more excited, more happy, and more proud of myself, especially with the things that happened last year at the U.S. Open on the 18th hole, you know, to come back this year and to get it done, it’s definitely bitter sweet,” said Johnson after posting a one-under 69 (or 68 depending on how you see it or if you can just keep up with the farcical situation). “It was a lot of fun.”

DJ has never been known to overthink a situation and that’s a gift when it comes to such a maddening game. Throw in the complexity of the Rules of Golf and an absolutely dimwitted, boneheaded decision by USGA officials to inform DJ of a potential penalty that was thought to have been resolved six holes ago while he’s in the lead in the final round of a major championship, and wow, DJ managed to defeat more than just the toughest test in golf at the hardest course ever, the other 155 players in the field — he conquered all the odds. Finally.

Oh yeah, he apparently also defied gravity and helped show the world that the USGA has no common sense.Not only that, but the USGA can’t actually be 100% certain. Just as long as there’s a “chance,” so the officials basically decide how they feel about a certain situation.

In case you somehow missed what happened Sunday afternoon, it seemed rather simple. DJ was on the fifth green with about a six-footer to save par and he took a couple of practice strokes, but never fully addressed the ball nor did he ground the putter — at first glance, but upon review of the video, it was later determined by officials that he had. Not that really means we should take the USGA at its word at his point.

DJ quickly (and instinctively) backed off when he saw his ball move the slightest millimeter. Then, he told one of the two rules officials walking with his group that he had seen his ball oscillate. His playing partner Lee Westwood was standing close by and backed up DJ, saying he had not caused the ball to move.

“I called him over and told him what happened,” said DJ. “Lee was standing right there. He saw it. So we both agreed that I didn’t cause the ball to move. So I just played on from there with no penalty.”

The official determined that DJ had not caused it to move and there was no rules infraction. Closed back, right? Yeah, definitely, in my mind. It seemed pretty obvious DJ hadn’t made the ball move (especially when you look closely and see that it went backwards!).

The rule in question was 18-2, which I thought I understood, but apparently there’s so much gray area and subjectivity that it can’t really be known.

“In making a determination about whether a player caused the ball to move, you look at a number of factors,” said Pagel. “Certainly, there’s a recognition of Oakmont’s greens. We recognize that. But a couple of the other considerations you look at are the player’s actions and also the time that elapses between the player’s actions and the time that the ball moves.

“In Dustin’s case, he did ground his putter near the ball on two occasions, and it was immediately after — or shortly after, excuse me — he ground his putter the second time that the ball moved.

“Again, in weighing the evidence, the interpretation of this rule tells us it’s not free of doubt. It’s not going to be 100% clear, yes, the player caused the ball to move, but that’s not the standard we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with the standard what is the cause of the ball’s movement? If it’s more likely than not what was the cause of the ball movement?

“If you think in percentage terms, 51 percent chance or greater that the player caused the ball to move. Again, as a committee, when we removed the tape, we looked at it and said, given the timing of his actions and the ball moved, it was more likely than not that Dustin was the cause of the movement. Again, there’s doubt there, and we understand not everyone is going to agree with that. But the standard is not 100 percent. It’s more likely than not.”

Sure, I get it now. Got that? Oh, man, the USGA looks better and better with more information and explanations from the rules officials in charge Jeff Hall and Thomas Pagel. Holy crap, I didn’t think this could get any more ludicrous. But it did. Hall and Pagel approached DJ on the 12th tee, six holes and a few hours following the incident on the fifth green, and told him there was an issue or concern with whether or not he caused his ball to move and it would be reviewed after he finished his round (before he signed his scorecard).

“We agreed that we were concerned about what we saw and felt obligated to have a conversation with Dustin about it, and the 12th tee presented the best opportunity to do that,” said Hall in a press conference after DJ’s victory. “We had that conversation with Dustin. We told him that what we saw was a concern, but we also asked him a couple of questions. We effectively — was there something else that could have caused the ball to move?

“As we had that discussion, it became very apparent that we weren’t going to get to a resolution there. Furthermore, there was some confusion about — he was quite adamant that he had not grounded the club, and that was certainly the case. He had not — again, he was certain he had not addressed the ball. And that was the case, but he did ground the putter proximate to the ball.”

Huh? Oh, wait, it gets better. Apparently, Romain Wattel had an issue similar to DJ’s earlier in the day, where there was a question as to whether Wattel had caused his ball to move or not. Oh man, this is rich. Wattel had grounded his club behind the ball for six whole seconds. Yes, SIX SECONDS. Not a half second or whatever. But somehow, the USGA determined Wattel had NOT caused the ball to move. That makes complete sense! Holy crap, I’m getting even more irritated now just telling the damn story. There are more twists and turns than Days of Our Lives in the ’90s.

Shane Lowry, who held a four-shot lead heading into the final round, had a situation in the second round where his ball moved on the green. However, that was an open-and-shut case because Lowry admitted he had caused the ball to move.

But the USGA officials simply wanted to get it right. That was the most important thing to them in all of this. And they did such a good job with it.

“With the rules of golf, it’s about getting it right, and there are times when a decision has to be made, and some will agree with it, and some will not,” said Hall.

In this case, everyone did not agree with it. I’ve never seen a situation, where the conclusion was unanimous.

“They have now got a rule that nobody knows the rule and it’s open to so much interpretation it’s ridiculous,” Westwood told Golfweek. “It’s a stupid rule that can be interpreted like one person says one thing another person says another.”

Preach! It’s absolutely ludicrous and unfair when some rules are chosen to be enforced on select individuals and others aren’t. Why wasn’t Jordan Spieth penalized for slow play at Oakmont? Would the USGA have ever handled the situation and treated Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods in his prime the same way? Hell no. It’s more than not infuriating when you ask for clarification on a regulation/rule and you’re told one thing by one official and then another by two others.

And then you go by the first one, but you’re told it’s not that by another and then given a different reason by a third. I kid you not, this crap happens all the time. Trust me. It never makes sense, but no matter how you try to reason, it’s whichever way they want it to be at that time. And it’s ridiculous. Somehow, it gets turned against you.

You cam see how this kept getting more ludicrous. By the way, I’m not sure why the 12th tee was the best opportunity. FFS, it’s 2016!!! I mean, there are these things called tablets — perhaps the walking official could carry one around and could have reviewed it on the spot.

Or if that’s not even good enough and these other officials have the last word, then there are also these cool newfangled devices called smart phones and you can send a text message to someone from anywhere in the entire world to another person from the opposite end, Believe it or not, these phones can be on vibrate, and as long as you’re just mindful of it, you can tell when receiving a text without it distracting a player. I know, it all sounds so crazy! If the use of a mobile phone is absolutely abhorrent to the USGA, then go old school with a walkie talkie, but don’t wait six holes and nearly two hours to tell a player he may or may not incur a one-shot penalty.

Oh wait, golf! When it became clear on the broadcast that the issue on the 5th green was called into question, I immediately nearly lost it. I was so infuriated. I turned to the group of writers next to me and informed them of the outrageous situation. They looked at me blankly and then one said, “Well, they need to tell him if he’s leading by one or two, he needs to know…” OK, fair enough, but that’s not even the point. The fact that it took SIX more holes and just all of it actually is unreal.

Seriously, this is the kind of maddening, stupid stuff that happens to turn people off of golf and think poorly of such an idiotic game. I don’t blame them because it is absolutely infuriating. Every time I think golf is making some progress and actually realizing it’s the 21st century, something absurd like this happens only to make millions of average sports fans and just people laugh at such a lack of common sense. It’s embarrassing.

Imagine not knowing the score of the game — if a team is up by 1 point? Two points? Three points? Nobody is sure as to what the hell is going on until AFTER THE FACT. Oh yeah, that definitely makes sense. If you’re going to effing stroke him, do it at the time or wait until after. I mean, to potentially mess with a guy’s head when he’s leading on the back nine on Sunday of a major championship? The USGA is lucky that it was Dustin and not anyone else because just about any other player would have lost his shit and not have hit another shot until it was resolved and nobody would blame him.

“Seeing as how it didn’t affect the outcome, no. I still didn’t want the penalty,” said DJ. “I didn’t think that I did anything to cause the ball to move, but at the end of the day, it didn’t affect what happened. So it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Well, how in the world did he manage to not let it get to him?

“(The USGA) said they were going to review it after I was done,” said DJ. “So at that point, I just — there’s nothing I can do about it, so let’s just focus on this shot and go from there. So all I tried to do was just focus on that tee shot on 12, trying to get it in the fairway there. So that’s what I did. And, you know, that’s what I just tried to do from there all the way to the house.

“I know this golf course, it’s very difficult, and it’s very difficult to close. So, you know, from 12 to 18, all I was trying to do was just one shot at a time and not worry about what anybody else was doing, just focus on what I was doing. And I just kept telling myself, it’s just me and the golf course. You know, I’m just playing the golf course today.”

More power to you, dude.

Again, one of DJ’s greatest strengths is his ability not to overthink a situation and just hit the ball really far.

“I don’t even know what I was thinking,” he said when asked about he managed the mental aspect of it all. “I wasn’t even worried about it at that point. Like I said, I was just trying to focus on the shot that I was about to hit. I’m not worried about that. I just told myself, we’ll worry about it when I get done.”

DJ managed to find some humor in the long list of fiascos he’d faced in the last six years. He also was able to not really think about anything else other than just hitting good golf shots. He’s probably one of the only guys who you’d believe when he tells you he has no idea what his position was on the 72nd hole. Hey, that’s another blessing in disguise.

“Just one more thing to add to the list, right? said DJ, with a smile. “Honestly, I knew I was in a good position, just from the way the crowd was, but I tried my best not to look at the leaderboard because no matter where I stood, I was playing the golf course, and I was playing each shot how I was going to play it no matter if I was one back or one ahead.

“You know, this golf course, that’s what it demands of you. So that’s what I was trying to do is just play my game and not worry about what anyone else is doing. So even on the 18th green, after I hit it in there close, I had to ask my brother, I’m like, Where do we stand? I’m pretty sure I’m ahead, but I had no idea.”

Apparently, it wasn’t just Oakmont that DJ was up against — as if that course isn’t challenging enough. He continued to impress with a monster drive up the 18th hole, followed by an unbelievable shot to about six feet for birdie. Sound kinda familiar? Well, this time, a year later, there was never a doubt DJ would make the first putt and win by multiple shots, but it just made it all the sweeter.

The USGA still penalized him a shot, but he won by three after firing an impressive two-under — wait, one-under 69 to secure his first major victory by four, wait, three (I think?) strokes. I guess after all the fuss, it would have been even poorer form to not penalize him because, well, they had to save face.

I seriously wonder what would have happened had DJ not bailed them out to make it not matter and only won by one stroke. Now, what? Well, exactly what you think would have — the world would have once again shaken its head in disgust and reinforced its already negative image of the game. Luckily for the USGA, DJ saved them from even more embarrassment than what had already unfolded.

The USGA should be kissing DJ’s feet for bailing them out for their absurd mishandling of the entire situation. I have a strong feeling that this new and improved rule will be rewritten. There’s simply too much subjectivity. I can’t even rant anymore because I’m just sick of getting worked up over such a joke.

The player reactions were very telling. Had you ever seen them all agree so vehemently on a topic? Felt like a lot of pent-up anger, too. I was actually very curious as to what Westwood’s reaction was because knowing him, he likely had some choice words and put them in a hilariously eloquent way.

I asked DJ in the mini-scrum following his presser and he was clearly trying to figure out how to answer it, diplomatically. “Umm…” he said. I added, “That are repeatable.” He replied, “Probably not…in the end it didn’t fucking matter. You can put that in the headline, I don’t care — my name is in it!” He had a big smile on his face and was genuinely just happy. It was a fun(ny) moment because it was real.

It was a funny moment because I swear you could tell DJ had wanted to drop an f-bomb about an hour ago in the trophy presentation. (If you’ve ever heard him talk regularly, you’d know.) He had exerted such self-control and class — I was very impressed because it would have been completely understandable for him to lose it. Well, I guess there were more than enough people doing that for him.

“I was pretty sure he hadn’t caused it to move,” Westwood told Golfweek. “You can see the TV pictures sees the side of the ball and the ball moves and the greens are running at 16 on the Stimpmeter, they put that pin in a stupid place, as it stands, so, occasionally the ball is going to move.”

Don’t forget the main reason several players had balls moving on the slick greens at Oakmont, which the USGA prides itself on getting to 14-15 on the Stimp. Oh, but the officials claim to indeed take the super slick greens into consideration.

“In making a determination about whether a player caused the ball to move, you look at a number of factors,” said Pagel. “Certainly, there’s a recognition of Oakmont’s greens. We recognize that. But a couple of the other considerations you look at are the player’s actions and also the time that elapses between the player’s actions and the time that the ball moves.”

In other words, the officials are calling DJ a liar. I don’t know how you could interpret that any differently. Especially because he said he didn’t ground his club, but he actually did. He, therefore, must have done something sketchy! Now that the USGA has the ability to review video (though it takes them two hours to figure it all out because it is crawling into the 21st century), officials say the goal is to get it right every single time.

Yep, these rules are definitely black and white. These guys aren’t contradicting exactly what they say, right? No way! There’s nothing I hate more than sanctimonious golf officials trying to claim their rules are so distinctly clear. Guess what, they never are. Many are gray and it makes things very confusing, and worse of all, it makes golf look incredibly lame.

“I think video review is essential in applying the rules,” said Pagel. “It’s no different than any other form of evidence you might get, whether it’s a fellow competitor or a spectator. Again, we need to act on the evidence as it’s presented to us.”

But ultimately, it’s all about getting the ruling right. Because, you know, the USGA needs to protect the integrity of the field, yet when we were growing up, we were taught to police ourselves and call penalties on ourselves. I think we got it right without the benefit of this so-called proof on video, though all everyone else sees is the ball moving backwards, which seems like it would be impossible for DJ to cause that to happen.

“Our concern today is we weighed the evidence and looked at it, is we wanted to make sure that Dustin had the benefit of a conversation, and we wanted to make sure we got it right,” said Pagel.

Well, clearly the officials had their minds made up already and simply wanted to appear like they had given DJ the chance to defend himself — not give him the benefit of the doubt, though, because, he’s obviously lying. Right? So, let’s pretend to talk to him about it, but we really don’t care what he says, because surely he intended to move the ball. I need to stop. This isn’t healthy. It’s simply making me more angry.

Let’s turn it to player tweets. I’ve never seen more support for a player than Sunday afternoon. Rory McIlroy came out swinging. So did Jordan Spieth. Even Tiger Woods chimed in, but ultimately, when Jack Nicklaus gives his two cents, that’s all you need to know. Here we go…

 

Couldn’t agree more. This is about principle.  He would have had every right to do what Rory said he would have done and not hit another shot until it was sorted, and I’m pretty certain Jordan would have done the same, as well, if he were in DJ’s position. And it sounds like they were both flipping out simply watching it unfold. 

But Nicklaus gets the last word and really this is all you need to know:

“When you have a situation where the official is there – I was listening on the radio coming to the golf course,” said Nicklaus. “The official says, did you cause that ball to move? and he says no, then that should be the end of the story Then he said, well, what caused it to move – how is he supposed to know what caused it to move? You have greens out here with spike marks, pitches, so on and so forth. The ball can move any time. I thought that should have been the end of the story.”

We thought it was, too. But instead, some geeky rules officials caused utter chaos and confusion with their lack of common sense. Try explaining why the hell DJ got a one-shot penalty to the average sports fan. I dare you. No matter what golf ends up looking overly complicated, petty, stuffy and just stupid. No wonder people are so repelled by it. Seriously, I’ve already said it at least once, but this is the kind of crap that makes people really repelled by the game and not interested in it.

To be fair, it’s not just the USGA that is guilty of such absurdity. Golf can’t get out of its own freaking way most of the time because it’s run by a bunch of stiff suits that basically think we’re living in 1952. Yet, they also want to appeal to younger and wider audiences, but refuse to modernize and realize we’re well into the 21st century.

I generally turn to my friends who are enjoy golf and definitely watch at least the big tournaments — as in don’t really much about Scott Piercy, but in general, know more than the average casual sports fan — for a barometer on the level of idiocy. I was texting with one last night about how she wants to get fitted for clubs and then the topic turned to what was happening at Oakmont. She put it simply, “Come on, guys, it’s the U.S. Open.” In other words, this shouldn’t be amateur hour. #growthegame


 

I thought these two answers were quite rich. The officials keep saying they were giving DJ the benefit of the doubt, but basically, they already had their minds made up and were simply going through the motions to cover their butts.

Q. If I’m not at the U.S. Open and I’m playing in a sectional or a local and the same thing happened where there is no benefit of videotape and the competitor, my playing competitor, says you didn’t cause it to move, I say I didn’t cause it to move, under your scenario, what happens?
THOMAS PAGEL: Again, Alex, you take the scenario that’s provided to you, and in that case, you would weigh the evidence. If you don’t have the benefit of the video evidence, then you could reach a conclusion that the player didn’t cause the ball to move. Again, in this case, we had evidence that we had to act on. If you don’t act on evidence that you have, I think it could be detrimental to the game. I really do.

Q. Jeff, did the imposition — the existence of video replay in other sports, has that placed any pressure on the USGA in instances like this?
JEFF HALL: I don’t think so. As Thomas said, we’ve tried to use whatever information we can to get it right. We’ve got a situation today where we’re discussing the use of video information that resulted in a penalty being imposed, but there are cases where it’s helped us get to a point where there was no penalty. So I think it can cut both ways, and at the end of the day, it’s about getting it right, and that’s what we — I feel pretty comfortable we got it right today.

Taking video review/evidence out of the equation does mostly solve the problem. And cripes, the USGA can’t just overlook such an infraction that was SO obvious on TV. The fiasco might impact page views to websites across the world in a good way, but if the USGA had not called the penalty on DJ, then it could have been oh-such-a-travesty since there was SO much evidence stacked against DJ causing the ball to move.

Sometimes common sense works just as well, if not better. Think about it for a minute. Naw, too simple. Let’s just keep golf back int he dark ages while the rest of the sports world might tune in for a few minutes only to see what a joke golf is. And then, the governing bodies and the Tours will continue to stay stuck back in the dark ages, while the rest of the planet will carry on into the 21st century.

Again, don’t forget #growthegame

[Ed. note: Apologies if this doesn’t read smoothly. Just so annoyed at this crap and haven’t slept. I’ll edit later. Peace.]