Tuesday, August 17, 2010

PGA heartbreak

Did you have a bad weekend? Dustin Johnson did, although he may not admit it. A 26-year old kid, who put himself in perfect position to win his first major after competing quite well in the year's previous majors, went from relief to devastation in five strokes, or was it seven?
A grounded club in a "bunker" cost young PGA sensation Dustin Johnson $1,079,167 and more importantly, a potential first career major. Johnson was no stranger to holding a lead in a major. He lead going into the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach earlier this summer before going on to shoot an +11. Dustin appeared as though he was not quite ready for the spotlight.
Headed into the final hole on Sunday in Wisconsin, Dustin had birdied the previous two holes to get to -12 and a one-stroke lead on Bubba Watson, who was the leader in the clubhouse. As he teed off from the par-4 18th, his drive which he is known for, leaked right and fell about 10 to 20 rows deep into the gallery. The ball came to a rest in a sandy, matted down, straw-strewn pit. After a few practice swings, Johnson knocks the ball out of the pit and finishes up the hole with bogey and appeared to force a 3-way playoff with Watson and Martin Kaymer. Hold the phone. As Johnson and playing partner Nick Watney walked off the 18th green, they were approached by David Price who is the PGA rules official following the final group. Price asked Johnson if he remembered grounding his club on his second shot. In golf, when the ball lies in a sand trap (or bunker), the golfer is not allowed to place the face of the club in the sand prior to striking it. If the club is grounded, a 2-shot penalty stroke is assessed. Upon replay, it looked as if Johnson had placed the face of the club on the ground at least once before his swing. But was Johnson hitting out of a bunker?
Price says that, "There's no question it was a bunker. There are 1,200 of them out there (on the course)". Dustin tried to recall if he had grounded his club or not, "I don't remember, but I don't think I did". In fact, Price overheard Johnson telling Watney that he didn't even recognize he was in a bunker. And how could you? Johnson walked 10-20 people deep in order to get to his ball. As the fans scattered, trash was visible from the days vendors. There was no doubt that Johnson's ball was laying in sand, but the characteristics of the area it was sitting in did not hold true to that of a bunker. CBS golf analyst David Feherty was even back at the location after the ordeal was over and could not really identify the location of Johnson's shot as being in a bunker.
How could it be a bunker when there are spectators standing in the sand as the player hits out of it?? The PGA supplies a letter to the golfers before each tournament stating special rules and regulations. The first item on the PGA Championship list was that any sandy areas were to be played as bunkers and rules were enforced. Fair enough, but if the PGA is going to enforce those rules, all bunkers should be easily identifiable. The bunker along the 18th fairway that Johnson was in should be just as identifiable as the sand trap along the 4th green. That means keep spectators OUT of the bunkers and keep them properly maintained. That was not the case with Dustin's "Dustbin".
As it turns out, Johnson was shown several replays of his second shot from the gallery and apparently admitted that he grounded his club upon review. He assessed himself a two stroke penalty and signed his score card with a seven on the final hole, not a five. This little fact is critical as well.
Each golfer is required to sign their scorecard and their playing partner's scorecard. Had Johnson ignored the grounded club and signed his scorecard, he would have risked disqualification and not placed at all in the tournament. Nick Watney definitely felt bad for Dustin. "Honestly, I don't think anyone reads the sheet (that the PGA provided with rule stipulations)... I've never seen fans in a bunker with a player", says Watney. No matter the outcome, Dustin Johnson has become a new fan favorite on the PGA tour. Even other golfers are feeling for him. Ian Poulter tweeted, "Gutted for Dustin shocking rule, 900+ bunkers and probably only 100 rakes I don't get it, sorry Dustin you deserved to be in the playoff". Local golfer and Champions Tour stalwart Peter Jacobsen says, "Whistling Straits is an fantastic course but MUST rethink the bunkers out of play. Or manage crowd better. It shouldn't cost anyone a major". It sounds like Peter echos my thoughts. Despite the drama, there was still a champion to be crowned. Bubba Watson and Matrin Kaymer played a fantastic three-hole playoff, with the German Kaymer taking it on the final hole.
Amongst the confusion and fog at Whistling Straits, there are positives to take away from the 2010 PGA Championship. Men's golf is increasingly becoming more competitive. Tiger Woods finished well out of the top-10. At the beginning of the final round, it appeared that we would have a first time major winner and that is what we got. We also have the core of the U.S. Ryder Cup team set. And guess who's in?? Dustin Johnson. Runner-up Bubba Watson also solidified his spot. Bubba is elated to be playing for his country, "I made the Ryder Cup. So that's all I care about". He said this right after losing to Kaymer in the playoff. Watson is one guy I am stoked to have on the Ryder Cup squad for sure. He WANTS to be there. How about Tiger? He needed to have a top-five finish in the PGA in order to automatically qualify. But he finished tied for 28th and will have to rely on captain Corey Pavin's at-large selection. But would Tiger bolster the United States against Europe in Wales come October? Tough question but Tiger is not playing his best golf, and he knows it. I eagerly look forward to the Ryder Cup. It is some of the most intense golf between to fierce rivals. It should be a fun tournament.

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