Dustin Johnson, Meet Roberto DiVicenzo

By: Jay Flemma


by Jay Flemma

Here by the sea and sand
Nothing ever goes as plannedů

-- The Who --

Not to take anything away from Germany's Martin Kaymer, a worthy champion and a great rising star, but we'll forever remember the defining moment of the 2010 PGA Championship as Dustin Johnson's careless mistake grounding his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole which cost him a spot in the three-hole playoff, and broke hearts from Sheboygan to South Carolina.

It's nobody's fault but his.

Let's get something nice and sparkling clear from the get-go: David Feherty and the CBS broadcast crew - who are the gold standard normally - were dead wrong during the broadcast when they tried to say it wasn't a bunker, didn't look like one, or as Feherty tried to say, "may have started as a bunker, but on Sunday was no longer." Their own animatronics and aerials of the hole clearly show it as a bunker and as part of a larger bunker complex. It was sand, it had a lip, and, moreover, the rules sheet handed to the players before the tournament - reviewed with them by officials, and hanging all over the locker room - clearly warned, as its first ordered point:

"All areas of the course were designed and built as sand bunkers and will be played as bunkers (hazards) whether or not they gave been raked. That will mean that many bunkers positioned outside the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tracks during the play of the championship. Such irregularities of surface are part of the game and no free relief will be available."

At Whistling Straits, they play golf by the old school rules. You play it where it lies. No exceptions. That's golf.

Dustin admitted that he didn't read the rules sheet, even though he received it and was supposed to review it and ask questions if he had any. "Maybe I should have looked at the rule sheet a little harder," he said.

How could he miss it? It was posted prominently all over the locker room. You couldn't look at a mirror without seeing it. The PGA of America gave everyone dire warnings not to become the cautionary tale Dustin turned out to be. As Bubba Watson put it in his media center interview when asked if players read the rules or saw them posted, "I know of one who didn't. I knew the rules."

Moreover, course architect Pete Dye was watching the whole thing unfold from the 18th green with Herb Kohler and one black-clad journalist. "Of course it's a bunker. It was specifically designed as a bunker, and it's part of a big bunker complex. I know, because I built it," explained the laconic and no-nonsense Dye. "It's like Pine Valley. Everything sandy is a bunker, and you don't ground your club. Besides, you're not supposed to hit it up there on the 72nd hole anyway! It's unfortunate."

It's unfortunate, but it's the right call. Besides, what other options are there? The PGA tried making some areas waste areas back in 2004 and had a rules issue just like this one. On the 11th hole, Stuart Appleby thought he was in a waste bunker, and took a practice swing and moved a stone. He was assessed two two-stroke penalties, a total of four shots. It knocked him out of contention.

It's not the PGA's fault, they are caught between a rock and a hard place. "The dilemma is that it's even harder to say some of these are not bunkers and some of them are because then how you do define those?" explained Mark Wilson, co-chairman of the PGA of America Rules Committee. "And then a player would be treading on this ice every time he entered a sandy area wondering where he was."

Some people, however, are still trying to spread the blame far and wide simply because passions haven't cooled, and because we have a ruling every bit as disappointing and untimely as the 1968 ruling at the Masters that cost Roberto DiVicenzo a spot in a playoff for the green jacket. In a rush to get to an interview, DiVicenzo, an Argentinean who spoke English brokenly, signed an incorrect scorecard, was assessed an extra stroke, and made his interview immortal when he turned to the camera and said, "What a stupid I am."

Now we have an equally popular rising star suffering an equally ignominious defeat. But there is no one else to blame. Dustin is our generation's DiVicenzo: What a stupid he is.

First, it's not the fault of the rules officials. They are not there to interject themselves into the proceedings or offer advice. They are there to be consulted if needed.

It's not the PGA of America's fault. They are right that having two sets of bunkers is confusing and unmanageable. They did everything they could to simplify the rules and to make every player aware of them. Perhaps they could have the ropes further back, but that's nitpicking. You can't blame the crowd control when a player hits it in the crowd.

Perhaps they also could have more grandstands so people aren't walking in bunkers, but the whole landscape is bunkers. Perhaps the ropes were too close, but someone is going to hit a ball so far off-line, they will get in a bunker way off-line. It's just bad luck this happened on the 72nd hole to the leader and not on the fifth or any other day during the championship to some chump playing out the string. In that regard, they are victims of circumstance.

It's not Herb Kohler's fault. He didn't set the course up. He didn't hit the ball into the next county. He didn't ground his club in the clutch.

It's not Pete Dye's fault. So what that the course isn't "natural" and that he moved a lot of earth to build it. The same rule applies whether a sheep scrapes out a sandy hollow to hide from the wind or whether Pete fires up a D-10 dozer and carves it out himself. Perhaps it is one of the shortcomings of Whistling Straits that there need to be more grandstands so kids don't build sand castles in bunkers or fans don't throw trash in them, but one of the rules of golf - professional tournaments or otherwise - is that you take the course as you find it.

Some people disagree. Golf architecture expert Ran Morrissett criticizes the design of the course. "Pete Dye created the 1,200 bunkers to give the course a wall-to-wall cohesive feel, but you need to focus on the 150 bunkers that truly dictate play. This so-called 'eye candy' is just there for the sake of visuals but does come into play, and shouldn't even be there. The course would look more natural and less contrived if upwards of 600-700 bunker were removed. Obviously the course photographs fantastically well from a blimp but I wonder what effect TV has on Pete in spurring him on to create so many extraneous bunkers. Perhaps his time would have been better served in creating more fiddly pitches and chips and interior contours of the greens that TV doesn't capture that make a course like Oakmont so enduring decade after decade. Get rid of 600 bunkers and have more room for spectators to sit so this doesn't happen again."

It could be the caddie's fault somewhat. Bobby Brown is a terrific caddie, a pro's pro, but he's not a mind-reader and he had a decision to make: trust his man or hover like a nervous mother. That's one of the crucial decisions a caddie has to make. Maybe he could have said something, but hindsight is 20-20, and he knows Dustin better than all of us. Besides, he had a tough job on that shot. He had to get a difficult distance; no caddie can predict exactly when their man will go 70 yards right and into the gallery, he had to select the right club, and had to move an army of fans and photographers out of the way. In any event, we know he's as devastated as Dustin.

After giving out great quotes all week and chatting amiably with journalists, when walking past CBS Sports' Steve Elling, he tersely grumbled, "No comment." Nevertheless, if they thought, as Bobby said much later, that there was trash in the area and that it might not be a bunker, they should have asked for a ruling.

At the end of the day, we saw another of golf's incontrovertible truths: Bad things happen to you when you miss the 72nd fairway by 70 yards. Just ask Phil Mickelson or Jean van de Velde.

By grounding his club, Dustin ruined a stellar back nine, and a swashbuckling surge into the lead. He birdied 16 after hitting into ankle-high rough to tie for the lead. He birdied 17 with a 15-foot putt to take the lead. He looked like he would wash away the disappointment of losing the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach with a final round 82. Heck, we could have been talking about Johnson being a double-major winner and player of the year. Instead, he'll have to deal with another shock to his famously laid-back demeanor, a blow that would devastate other golfers.

Thank the heavens he didn't make the putt on 18. The ruling would have taken away the "win." Thank heavens also that this didn't happen to Tiger. Then the mess would have exploded exponentially.

Let's not take anything away from Kaymer. He made a great up-and-down from the spinach patch short of the 18th green and coolly rolled in a twisting 15-footer. He's the second European player in three years and the third consecutive international player to win. The only other time that has happened was first three years of the tournament: 1916, 1919, 1920. There was no competition during World War I.

At the end of the day, the rule is tough, but there is no better one. Dustin's laid-back demeanor may have hurt him. This shouldn't happen on the 72nd hole on the shot of his life. He's a professional, he's is supposed to know better. I guess it just underlines another of golf's incontrovertible truths: Don't be a stupid.



Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.


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