DJ’s birdie trumps USGA bogey

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Dustin Johnson may or may not have caused his ball to move on the 5th green but it was decided at the time by Johnson, his playing partner and a Rules official that he did not. On the 12th tee, the USGA advised DJ it “might” still assess him a penalty and would review the situation after the round. Did the USGA handle this correctly?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): The USGA handled this as poorly as possible, short of flogging DJ with a birch branch.  I think they need to take a good hard look at the way they manage not only the rules, but the setup of their Open courses as well.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Based on the Twitterverse, it would appear that nobody believes that the USGA handled it correctly.  I know that at times they review instances like that after the round, but not when it’s the guy leading your damn National Championship with 6 holes to play!  Are you kidding me?  Make a decision and live with it.  It was painful to watch the rest of the broadcast because they showed so little golf since they had to spend hours, it seemed like, discussing this rule and the interpretation.  Horrible TV and it ruined an otherwise awesome golf tournament.

Frank Mastroianni, Canadian Golf Magazine (@frank_mastro): The USGA handled the situation as disgustingly as possible and in doing so hopefully showed the world how archaic, backwards and pointless they are. They have no clue what they’re doing and consistently make decisions, often even backpedal on decisions, and offend the very fabric of our game. The governing bodies of golf, including Golf Canada who make similar ridiculous decisions and support these knuckleheads (remember the solo round handicap fiasco?) do little to grow the game in any effective manner.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Incredibly tough spot when a couple of guys on the rules committee look at a video — that the official with the DJ group did not see — and conclude that DJ’s ball could not have moved on its own. At that stage, one stroke could decide the tournament. The mishandling was in adhering to the gentlemanly tradition of talking again to the player after the round. If they’d just announced the penalty ‘Upon Further Review’ that fans of every other sport are now accustomed to, it would have been over in minutes.

Matthew MacKay, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTours): The USGA should have either not said anything to Dustin, or they should have made their decision right there and then. It was pretty clear that they had made up their mind that Dustin should be penalized – just go ahead and do it.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Once USGA officials reviewed the video and decided they were going to over-rule their own walking official, there was no other way to handle it. All the players needed to be informed. It made things very awkward and could have affected the outcome. But the real problem is with the Rule 18-2 itself, which I hope the USGA will eliminate.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Not even a little bit.  The USGA botched this one completely.  The USGA looked like they had their minds made up that DJ was going to get a 1-stroke penalty after the round so why not just give him the penalty right there on the 12th tee.  It would have been an erroneous ruling, but at least it would have been done then and there. Instead, the stroke penalty loomed over the field for the rest of the nine, causing confusion amongst the broadcasters, players and fans alike. Plus, it caused the finish to feel anticlimactic! Someone needs to resign after this one!

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Admittedly, they (USGA) did not handle the situation the best. And, it looks like they’ll be reviewing how this was handled to create a better process. Can we please all get off the back of the USGA now? Last I checked, nobody was/is perfect, and they can make mistakes just like anyone else. It would be a crime if they didn’t admit a mistake, and didn’t learn and improve from it. They needed to inform DJ of the penalty much sooner – within a hole or two.

The Rules of Golf are so complex that books of decisions and committees are needed to interpret them. This latest issue with a ball moving millimetres on the green (which did not give DJ any advantage) and the resulting controversy is confusing to observers and players. Can the Rules of Golf be simplified to restore “equity’ to the game and take it out of hands of committees?

Quinn: The vast majority of golf rounds are non-competitive, well maybe with a couple of beers at stake, and so are played under an approximation of the rules. The rule book is thick and turgid with myriad appendixes and codicils and exceptions and explanations because it has evolved as unforeseen circumstances have arisen. My RCGA Commemorative Edition runs to 153 pages of small type each with a handful of rulings developed because of events on a course that affected a player’s score or a match’s outcome. How can that be simplified without tossing some rules out that will only have to be re-invented when that obscure happenstance happens in the next competitive round?

Mastroianni: The Rules of Golf would be simple if everyone used some common sense, but that would be too easy. The USGA has none and should immediately take up kite flying or knitting. If you want proof of how devoid of common sense they really are, just look up Diana Murphy’s speech at the trophy presentation ceremony and see how difficult it was for her to string together two coherent thoughts.

MacKay: It’s not as easy as it sounds to simplify the Rules of Golf. A million things can happen on a golf course, which is why there are a million Decisions related to the core 34 Rules. I believe that a Committee will always be necessary to be the ultimate arbiters of a competition. In this specific case at Oakmont, I would like the Rules changed so that a ball on a putting green that is moved inadvertently by a player should be allowed to be replaced with no penalty. I understand that there would be arguments against this, such as ‘how can it be assured that the ball is replaced exactly where it was, and could that potentially give advantage’, but I think it beats what we have now. It is, however, important to not lose sight of the fact that ‘Ball at Rest Moved’ rule takes on an entirely different dimension when video review is available.

Kaplan: I doubt it.  Golf has a rule for just about every situation because, as all golfers know, strange things tend to happen when you miss your target.  It would be nice to sum up a good chunk of these rules into overarching principles, but there would be so many exceptions and grey areas for each category that I truly believe the game would be worse off.

Deeks: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  Most of the rules are incomprehensible, open to interpretation, arbitrary, archaic, and counter to the enjoyment and promotion of the game.  And most amateurs probably break at least 5 rules per round, without even knowing it.  (Not me, though.  I’m perfect.)

Mumford: The Rules of Golf are like the tax code. Everybody believes they can be simplified but don’t have a clue what to do with all the once-in-a-lifetime exceptions that give rise to arcane decisions. For instance, and this is based on real decisions, what do you do if your ball comes to rest against a fish in a bunker? The answer is dependent on whether the fish is alive or dead. For me, I’d just throw the damn fish out of the bunker and play on. No penalty. Fish don’t belong in bunkers.

Rule: Of course it can be simplified, but I’m sure there are those that would then take advantage of some rules.  I just wish they would alter some rules that clearly don’t give the player an actual advantage when they break the rule.  Ultimately, there still needs to be a committee at any golf tournament to make decisions, but the rules and rulings shouldn’t be as complex as they often are.

Loughry: No. There will always be a need of some sort of Committee. Maybe I’m blind but I don’t think writing down a few words will contemplate every situation that may occur. Hence in any sport, some sort of instant replay/review, huddle after a call, etc.

Apart from Dustin Johnson, most of the world’s top ranked players were never in contention at Oakmont. Was Oakmont a fair test of golf?

Loughry: Yes it was a fair test. DJ is no slouch, so one of the top players did rise to the top. Just look at the list of winners at Oakmont: Nicklaus, Miller, Els, Nelson, and Cabrera as examples. Those guys aren’t too bad. The course demands good ball striking especially off the tee, and of course some good manoeuvring with the putter. And hey, a few guys were under par at the end (even with penalty strokes).

Deeks: As I say in my column this week, I think the US Open is set up so severely that it becomes a test of survival of the luckiest.  No disrespect to DJ, though, who played well and patiently.

Quinn: The only fair aspect was that they all had to play the same course.  Given that so many shots were played from daunting distances with the margin for error so minute, the ‘rub of the green’ was too major a factor. It was fine that the toll of the fairway bunkers was half a shot or a shot and that the rough was penal but unless you can hit towering 6 irons more than 200 yards like DJ, the green complexes were unfair.

Mastroianni: I don’t like to toot my own horn (but I do). I picked Dustin Johnson as the winner of this year’s U.S. Open quite confidently in an earlier version of The Round Table from May. The top ranked players weren’t in contention at Oakmont and anyone who wasn’t on the slurp for the “Big Three” would have seen this coming. Spieth is in denial of his long game being a complete mess right now; Rory’s game doesn’t show up on any golf course that doesn’t play soft, wet, calm and in ideal weather; Jason Day had a cold, though he finished the highest (T8), as I predicted. The top 10 was quite varied in terms of style and types of players — you can’t be more opposite than Johnson & Johnson — so I’d say it was pretty fair. The U.S. Open is about being a stern challenge and that’s what it was.

MacKay: The fact that a 7,200 yard, par 70 golf course needs greens running at 15 on the Stimpmeter to keep winning scores near par says to me that the governing bodies should have reigned the golf ball in the minute the Pro V1 appeared on the scene. Perhaps the fiasco at Oakmont is a bit of karma coming back to haunt them.

Kaplan: I don’t think that the USGA cares for the term ‘fair.’  Their goal is to make each US Open as difficult and treacherous as possible and I, personally, love watching these guys grind out there for 72 holes.  It doesn’t bother me at all that none of Spieth, McIlroy, Fowler or Mickelson were around on Sunday evening.  They simply didn’t play well enough to get it done!

Rule: I don’t think that not having other top players in the world in contention signifies an unfair test of golf.  Ultimately, the winning score was lower than most US Open, so I guess it was fair.  I enjoyed watching it, given it was the US Open, although I wouldn’t want to watch that type of golf every week.

Mumford: Oakmont was never intended to be fair. It was set up to be as penal and exacting as possible. As Paul Azinger noted, it was an “accuracyfest”. That type of set-up eliminates the bomb-and-gouge players right from the get go and any other top player who isn’t on his game. I guess it’s fair in that everyone plays the same course but some players have a huge advantage with a U.S. Open set-up.

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