OAKMONT, PENNSYLVANIA | The USGA owes itself a disqualification penalty and a heartfelt apology to Dustin Johnson. Golf’s governing body has insinuated itself into every U.S. Open in recent history, manipulating course conditions and tricked-up setups.
But this time, it has committed an unforgivable crime. A decision – after the close of play – had the potential to irrevocably decide the U.S. Open. And Johnson didn’t deserve any of it.
Johnson, on the fifth green, saw his ball move ever so slightly before he putted. But he had not soled the putter on the green behind the ball – the classic definition of addressing a putt. He called the rules official walking with his group – Mark Newell, who is the chairman of the USGA Rules Committee – and was cleared of any penalty. He was told to play his stroke from the place where the ball came to rest.
However, on the 12th hole, Johnson was approached by Jeff Hall, managing director of rules and competition for the USGA, and was told that, after reviewing the video, there might – might – be cause for a penalty. And Johnson was to be taken to review the video before a decision would be made – when play ended. As it turned out, the decision already had been made, which makes this even worse. They just wanted Johnson to see it on video.
This is as egregious a blunder as has ever been seen in championship golf. Johnson was forced to play the rest of his round with this news in the front of his mind and hanging like the sword of Damocles over his neck. The USGA was irresponsible at the very least and if it was a group of doctors, it would be guilty of malpractice.
How must Johnson have felt carrying around the burden of the knowledge that a major championship could be snatched away from him by a decision of a rules official?
That notion is fundamentally wrong when it comes to virtually every athletic competition. The players, not the officials, should decide the outcome. And the USGA inserted itself where it didn’t belong.
Players took to Twitter to excoriate the USGA. And rightly so.
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