Jun
21
2016
USGA expresses regret with distraction caused by Dustin Johnson ruling
By Stephanie Wei under US Open

The USGA released a statement Monday afternoon, saying it regretted the “distraction” caused by the organization’s decision to wait until the end of Dustin Johnson’s round to decide on the ruling regarding the potential infraction that occurred on the fifth green. As the USGA rules officials repeatedly stated afterwards (to the point of absurdity) in interviews and a press conference (which was more like a parody), the whole point was for the USGA to make the correct ruling.

Upon reviewing the video evidence (see below), the officials decided that it “more likely than not” (ugh, so 51%) that Dustin caused the ball to move because apparently the officials disregarded DJ’s word and claim he grounded his putter and shortly after the ball moved.

Wow. I mean, basically, by saying DJ put the sole of his putter on the green, which then caused his ball to oscillate backwards, the USGA officials are calling DJ a liar. When asked if he grounded the club and made the ball move the smallest millimeter, DJ said he did not. His playing partner Lee Westwood didn’t hesitate to agree with Johnson, as he was standing not far from him, and encouraged everyone to get on with the golf because there was no doubt in his mind that DJ did not make the ball move. After speaking with both DJ and Westwood, the walking official deemed that DJ had not incurred a rules infraction. There, it should have been over. Done deal.

The USGA adamantly believes that the stupid rule, which you need like a physics and law degree to understand, was broken and that was absolutely the right call. That’s missing the entire point. Look, okay, great, the USGA wishes it had just penalized DJ a shot on the 12th tee because the officials had obviously already made the judgment call, and admitted they were wrong to insert so much chaos and absurdity into the final holes of the U.S. Open, turning the attention to the stupidity of the rules of golf. If I can’t read the rule once or maybe even twice for good measure and explain exactly what the issue at hand is to a non-golf fan, then that’s dumb and makes golf look just as dumb.

Unfortunately, that’s how just about how each of the Rules of Golf are written — in legalese. But apparently, you also need to understand physics since officials are determining if DJ’s putter, which may or may not have touched the ground, caused enough impact to have forced the ball to move backwards. I feel like there must be some equation there to calculate the probability. And honestly, how are the rules officials qualified to determine the laws of gravity? What makes them the experts on all the factors that go into the ludicrous equation you’d have to write to fairly determine whether or not DJ was “more than likely” to have caused the ball to move.

Hey, USGA, this is way too complicated. It’s also a dumb rule. It is much too subjective. How can rules officials fairly consider and determine whether the “player’s actions, the time between those actions and the movement of the ball, the lie of the ball, and course and weather conditions” resulted in the the ball to “more likely than not” move ever so slightly…and backwards, in DJ’s case on the fifth green, then the player is penalized a stroke.

This is so absurd that I don’t know if I can deal with writing much more on the topic without losing my shit (like I basically did yesterday) and having an ulcer. It took me much too long to fully understand this rule. And look, I’m not an idiot. If I can’t figure it out just about right away, then I doubt most others can, either, especially non-golf fans. The U.S. Open is one of four tournaments (maybe three) that the average sports fan will actually tune into watch. Again, if I didn’t know much about golf and I was watching on Sunday, I would wonder what morons were running this championship and how they came up with such weird rules.

At least the USGA admits its actions did create “uncertainty” and “ambiguity” for DJ and the other competitors as to their position on the leaderboard. In what other sport does this happen? ZERO. Can you imagine if the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors were in the third quarter and an official called some kind of infraction on Lebron James. However, these NBA officials wanted to ensure that they got the ruling absolutely correct, so first, they wait until the fourth quarter starts to tell Lebron and his teammates, as well as the Warriors.

As Tour pros, like four-time major champion Rory McIlroy called the USGA’s actions as “amateur hour” on Twitter. He had other sharp words for the USGA, as wel. So did just about every single other Tour pro.

Let’s take a look at this video evidence that the officials couldn’t stop emphasizing:

But the officials are just so preoccupied with making sure they made the right call that they can’t determine right there on the spot if an infraction had been committed. So, now, the Cavaliers are leading the Warriors, but they’re not sure wether it’s by five or two. Or whatever. You get the point. We would all be wondering what the hell was going on and we would be incredibly confused and annoyed because we had no idea what the Warriors had to do in order to make up the deficit and the Cavs wouldn’t know the exact advantage they had. That would go over *so* well.

Again, I have absolutely no idea how the USGA rules officials thought how they handled the situation was EVER the correct call. I mean, really? Do these people not have any common sense? Probably not because most rules officials see things a certain way and refuse to admit the “gray” area of their so-called “black and white” rules. How much more subjectivity do you need to realize that it’s impossible and unfair to determine whether a player caused the ball to move, especially on Oakmont’s super slick greens, which the USGA bragged were running at least a 14 on the stimpmetre. Combine that with the USGA’s “stupid” pin placements (as Westwood described on the fifth green) and Oakmont’s slopey greens that apparently have the ability to defy gravity (hey, I was told that by a former player earlier this week!). Common sense still has not prevailed.

I defended the USGA when it first released this statement. I said, OK, it’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction, especially because when does golf ever admit to making a mistake like this. Never. The USGA got incredibly lucky that the officials interrupted play and potentially messed with a golfer’s psyche as he came down the stretch on Sunday at Oakmont. I mean, that is simply offensive. If it had been any player besides Dustin, the guy would have immediately dropped at least four shots in the next couple of holes.

While DJ looked a little shaky initially after the officials told him he might get penalized, he settled down — Westwood and his caddie Billy Spencer did what they could to help the situation because they both thought it was ludicrous, And the USGA is even more lucky that DJ won by four shots without the penalty. What would have happened had he finished only one shot ahead or tied? I’m fairly certain a riot would have broken out.

The USGA acknowledges its desire to improve the process and listen to feedback. Well, I’d like to see them actually do something and make that effort happen and listen to the players, fans and media. It also wouldn’t hurt to exercise some common sense instead of some legalese BS no one wants to read or even try to understand unless they need to. The rules are complex, but they shouldn’t be so much that multiple players have no idea what’s going on and don’t understand what should be a very basic rule. (Like I said, DJ said it didn’t move, Westy said it didn’t either, official declares it’s OK and play continues and the case is shut — and not reopened six holes later.)

Here’s the full statement:

The USGA wishes to congratulate Dustin Johnson on his victory and thank him, and the other players in the field, for their professionalism and grace throughout the championship. Dustin is a wonderful champion, a talented golfer and a gentleman.

Our team at the USGA has seen and heard a great deal of discussion and debate about the ruling on Dustin’s ball moving during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club. In addition to the explanations we offered upon the conclusion of the final round, we add these comments.

Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the score card is returned. While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leader board after we informed Dustin on the 12th tee that his actions on the fifth green might lead to a penalty. This created unnecessary ambiguity for Dustin and the other players, as well as spectators on-site, and those watching and listening on television and digital channels.

During any competition, the priority for Rules officials is to make the correct ruling for the protection of the player(s) involved and the entire field. In applying Rule 18-2, which deals with a ball at rest that moves, officials consider all the relevant evidence – including the player’s actions, the time between those actions and the movement of the ball, the lie of the ball, and course and weather conditions. If that evidence, considered together, shows that it is more likely than not that the player’s actions caused the ball to move, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty. Officials use this “more likely than not” standard because it is not always apparent what caused the ball to move. Such situations require a review of the evidence, with Decision 18-2/0.5 providing guidance on how the evidence should be weighed.

Our officials reviewed the video of Dustin on the fifth green and determined that based on the weight of the evidence, it was more likely than not that Dustin caused his ball to move. Dustin’s putter contacted the ground at the side of the ball, and almost immediately after, the ball moved.

We accept that not everyone will agree that Dustin caused his ball to move. Issues under Rule 18-2 often require a judgment where there is some uncertainty, and this was one of those instances. We also understand that some people may disagree with Rule 18-2 itself. While we respect the viewpoints of those who disagree, our Committee made a careful and collective judgment in its pursuit of a fair competition played under the Rules of Golf.

In keeping with our commitment to excellence in all aspects of our work on behalf of the game of golf, we pledge to closely examine our procedures in this matter. We will assess our procedures for handling video review, the timing of such, and our communication with players to make sure that when confronted with such a situation again, we will have a better process.

We at the USGA deeply appreciate the support of players, fans, and the entire golf community of our championships and our other work for golf – and we appreciate your feedback as well. We have established an email address (comments@usga.org) and phone mailbox (908-326-1857) to receive comments. We thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

We all share an abiding love of this great game. Let us continue to work together for its good.

All it really takes is some common sense, USGA. That’s all we ask and then everyone will be happy because as it stands, a lot of sports fans, serious golf geeks and the entire PGA Tour — or player on any major tour — was completely alienated by the inept handling of what should have been a simple situation with a simple resolution. Instead, DJ’s victory was a bit lost in the fiasco. It’s not that I think he cares, but it’s more that he overcame so many demons from his past and then from not only the super hard course setup at the toughest venue on the planet, but also a bunch of BS he shouldn’t have beens subjected to en route to finally capturing his first major title.

I wish we were talking more about those ridiculous shots he hit on the 72nd hole — kind of similar to what happened at Chambers Bay a year ago — but this time DJ knocked his approach to six feet and holed the birdie putt to win with some oomph. Like he kept saying, the penalty didn’t end up making a difference and I’m sure we’re much more outraged than he is, but FFS, it could have very easily gone the other way. And then try explaining that one to fans and DJ, along with his other Tour pros. As it already stands, it sounds like the players want to get together and boycott the USGA (not surprised).

Again, admitting they handled it poorly was a step in the right direction — I was pleasantly surprised because, I mean, when was the last time a major golf organization (or governing body or Tour, etc) released a statement saying it had messed up and needs to reevaluate the process of the dealing with these situations going forward. Now, look, that’s great, but I think what many are irritated by still is the rule and the fact that DJ got a penalty stroke. I have to agree. I don’t think DJ deserved that and I believe the USGA needs to reexamine that entire rule (and probably a few others — I’m sure a few PGA Tour players can point the rules officials in the right direction).


 


A day removed from the U.S. Open at Oakmont that easily could have turned into a complete and utter embarrassment for golf, particularly the USGA, the organizations’ executive director and CEO Mike Davis told Golf Channel that it would like a “mulligan” on how it handled the penalty stroke assessed to eventual champion Dustin Johnson (who seriously did the USGA a massive favor by pretty much being the only human in the world to not let the situation mess with his head and winning by four, or well, three).

At the Pittsburgh airport on Monday evening, at least a dozen or so people gathered around a TV, listening with great curiosity to an interview with Davis. That was certainly a new sight to behold and something I’m not sure I’d ever see.

While Davis did not say the USGA regretted penalizing Johnson a shot, he did admit the rules officials did not handle the situation well.

“When you look back at the whole issue, you can break it down into two parts. It’s a rules of golf issue, of trying to make sure that you apply the rules correctly the way they’re written. And we do believe we did that,” Davis said. “But there’s another part of it in terms of the conduct of the championship itself, and that’s where we’d really like a mulligan because clearly we made a big bogey.”

Davis said he wished the rules officials would have simply told Johnson on the 12th tee when they decided to approach him and discuss the issue nearly two hours later that he had been penalized a shot for causing his ball to move. It was surprising to everyone since it was thought to have been resolved on the fifth green when it happened. Honestly, I’ve seen some messed up things. Perhaps the only one that might have been worse was the issue with Tiger Woods at the 2013 Masters. That was complete crap. But this was pretty terrible.

How can you approach a guy six holes later to tell him he *might* have incurred a penalty from something that he thought had been resolved at the time? Why else is there a walking official? Apparently, there is a four-man committee that holds more power than the walking official and can overrule the initial ruling. Yeah, it’s really confusing. It’s basically like the Supreme Court or something. I know a lot of people were confused because they thought once the walking referee makes a decision, it becomes final. Nope. It needs to also pass the smell test of these uber-important rules officials.

“That really gets down to putting in essence the championship on the final day almost in limbo to where the players, and in this case Dustin, didn’t know where he stood in terms of a score,” said Davis. “That’s where, if we could do it again, we should have just applied the penalty once we looked at the video.”

Except, no! He shouldn’t have received a penalty! I actually like Mike Davis, but in this case, I think he’s being way too geeky and completely missing the point! The rule is absurd. It is too subjective and there is too much gray area, unless you can show me a calculation that can accurately determine if a player “more likely than not” moved the ball. Otherwise, it’s crap.

Forget video and just change the rule so it makes sense and is simple. If a player didn’t move the ball and those in his group are in agreement, then just play on. By doubting a players’ word, that questions his integrity and the thing is, I feel like golfers instinctively back off a ball if they see it move or if they think there’s a chance of it happening. If it does indeed move, I think 99% of golfers call themselves out. Or maybe I’m just naive and I think everyone does the right thing. Honestly, I’ve seen it time and time again, it’s just what golfers do. I know it’s not everyone, but I feel like more often than not, it’s like second nature.

Davis backs up the application of Rule 18-2 and believes without a doubt the rules officials were right in doling out a stroke penalty to Dustin Johnson.

“In this case, what it was was a timing issue,” he said. “The championship deserved to have clarity at that time, and simply put, we didn’t provide that clarity,” Davis said. “We strongly believe we got the ruling right, we just didn’t apply it in the proper timing and sequence. And that’s where, as I say, I think we bogeyed, and for that we truly regret and furthermore apologize for the way that was handled.”

Right, because to the millions watching at home, golf, once again, looked ridiculous, but let’s talk about how we need to #growthegame. It is great that the USGA came out with this statement, as I’ve never seen a golf organization or Tour admit to wrongfully handling a situation, but like I keep saying, that’s not the point. The rule needs to be reexamined, not just the “process” of how it’s handled.

“In this case, what it was was a timing issue,” said Davis. “The championship deserved to have clarity at that time, and simply put, we didn’t provide that clarity. We strongly believe we got the ruling right, we just didn’t apply it in the proper timing and sequence. And that’s where, as I say, I think we bogeyed, and for that we truly regret and furthermore apologize for the way that was handled.”

Nope, just chaos and amateur hour. I would also like to point out that according to Alan Shipnuck, he managed to corner Davis in the locker room nearly minutes after he had showered. (Yeah, I don’t want any more details, either.) Davis was unclear as to what was happening, according to Shipnuck. He couldn’t answer the questions as to why the rules officials took so long to just approach Johnson with the potential infraction.

Davis had just come in from the golf course and was cleaning up in preparation for the trophy presentation. I feel like he should have been more concerned with what was happening and the potential for a total disaster had Dustin not just run away with it. Shipnuck asked him why the rules official didn’t break out like an iPad and look at it right away. Davis, of course, took it too literally and said, “I don’t know if we even have one.” OK, an iPhone, then. Whatever.

Davis hadn’t had the chance to take a close look at the moment in question. OK. Again, weird. I feel like golf needs to get over its fear of using technology on the course, like iPhones and iPads, etc. because that would honestly just simplify things or if the walking official could even TEXT MESSAGE the four-man “supreme court” of officials.

Well, I have a feeling this is not the last we’re going to hear about this issue. I have gone for fired up and infuriated to just absolutely exhausted — and I didn’t even have to play Oakmont.