Johnson's PGA snafu was avoidable

Dustin Johnson of the U.S. tees off on the first hole during the final round of the 92nd PGA Golf...

Dustin Johnson of the U.S. tees off on the first hole during the final round of the 92nd PGA Golf Championship at Whistling Straits, in Kohler, Wisconsin, August 15, 2010. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

Jim Brighters, SPORTS NETWORK

, Last Updated: 2:48 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - What happened to Dustin Johnson on Sunday at the PGA Championship was cruel, vicious, heartbreaking and borderline tragic.

"Joke."

"Terrible for golf."

Tim Rosaforte of the Golf Channel reported someone yelled "you were robbed" to Johnson in the parking lot.

These are things I had texted to me or read, but know what else it was?

Avoidable.

I'm a human being, so I'm sensitive to what happened. Johnson thought he was in a playoff for his first major championship and it was ripped away from him before he could even get started.

We all know what happened. Johnson drove into a patch of sand right of the fairway at 18 with a one-shot lead. He grounded his club in the sand, made bogey, thought he was in a playoff, then had his guts torn out.

There are so many questions that spring to mind, so let's handle them, but sadly the outcome is always the same.

First, was it a bunker or not? Well the sandy area certainly didn't look any bigger than the soul patch under Johnson's lip, so it's totally understandable to think it wasn't a bunker. I didn't. Neither did Johnson, obviously.

If you don't think it's a bunker, that's an opinion that is not shared by the PGA of America. They designated it a bunker based on how the course was designed. Since the sandy strip had that designation, there really can't be a question as to whether or not Johnson deserved the two-stroke penalty. He clearly grounded his club and never denied it afterwards.

With the PGA Championship returning to Whistling Straits in five years, here's a free piece of advice for the PGA of America - do something about the bunkers. Yes, you posted rules that said where and what bunkers were, but then didn't enforce them at all. Gallery members were standing in said areas. CBS even showed a kid playing in one. If they are outside the ropes, but still bunkers, they need to be treated as such. Poor job on that front by the officials and marshals.

As semi-understandable as it is to think that wasn't a bunker, Johnson made some huge oversights. For one, he should've known that area was a bunker if it was posted on the rules sheet, which was posted in the locker room and other places. Ignorance is no defense.

It was downright alarming to hear how many players defended Johnson based on the fact they didn't know the rules or check the sheet. Whistling Straits isn't a regular tour stop, so why wouldn't players check local rules since they haven't been here in six years? Do you think Tiger Woods wouldn't have checked the sheet or known the rules? Of course he would know that.

Johnson wasn't here six years ago, but this is the part that I'll never understand or forgive. He flat-out didn't know the rules and that's inexcusable.

Next, with a major title on the line on the 72nd hole, it's understandable that Johnson had a lot of thoughts swimming in his noodle. While standing over his ball that was clearly in sand, why didn't Johnson think to ask an official if it was a bunker? Not to oversimplify this whole experience, but at the end of the day, Johnson was standing over a ball that was in some form of sand.

Why didn't the walking rules official stop Johnson before he got in there and grounded the club? There are several explanations for this. Sadly, maybe the official didn't even know the rule.

Secondly, Mark Wilson, one of the co-chairmen of rules committee brought up a logistical explanation.

"David (Price) certainly would have jumped in, under the circumstances with the many people over there, it was hard," said Wilson, referring to the large gallery around Johnson. "If the walking official can prevent a breach of the rules, he certainly will, but under the circumstances it was hard enough to get the player over there and again if it's that hard to get the player over there, all the rules official is going to be doing is hovering over the player and they're really not trying to encourage that. We're not trying to tell the players that, hey, you've been assigned a walking official because we're going to scrutinize every rule."

I hate hypotheticals almost as much as I hate black cherry soda, but what if the walking official goes up to Johnson and says, "Be careful, this may be a bunker, but I'm not sure." Now, Johnson has tons of thoughts about what to do with a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole of a major. That's a nightmare scenario and probably great fodder for a different column because an official should never be the story or interject himself or herself into things like that.

Plus, I don't think it's a rules official's place to inform a guy he might be breaking a rule when the guy should've known it for himself.

Golf, perhaps more than any other sport, is a stickler for rules. Ever heard that golf is a gentleman's game and that it polices itself? Of course you have. Whether or not you think the rule was dumb or the interpretation was flawed, what Johnson did was illegal under the rules as set forth by the rules committee.

Sadly, that rules infraction comes with a penalty. That penalty came at a horrible time, but it was the right call.

As a human being with a beating heart, I felt bad for Johnson. It was cruel, vicious, heartbreaking and tragic.

Oh, and completely avoidable.

08/16 11:50:30 ET


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