USGA made a double bogey Sunday

The rules fiasco with eventual winner Dustin Johnson during Sunday’s 116th U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club was not good then, was not good yesterday and will not be good for some time.

It will take the USGA a while to get over this one.

The USGA was Ali leaning on the ropes taking shots from George Foreman.

The difference here, is the USGA is not getting off the ropes to defeat Foreman.

Foreman, in this case, is the golfing public opinion and every PGA and LPGA Tour player who chimed in Sunday afternoon via Twitter.

In addition, Jack Nicklaus, the man with 116 USGA championships under his belt and for whom the gold medal is named for the U.S. Open champion, chimed in and was not happy with the USGA.

“In my opinion, golf is a game of honor,” Nicklaus said in a story on golf.com. “That’s what the USGA believes in, and that’s what most of the players all believe in.

“And when you have a situation where the official was there and said, ‘Did you cause it to move?’ and he says, ‘No,’ then that should be the end of the story. How’s he supposed to know what caused it to move?

“You’ve got greens out there with spike marks and pitches. The ball can move at any time.”

Added Nicklaus, “I think it’s very unusual,” he said in an article on yahoo.com by Jay Hart. “I mean, you either have (a penalty) or you don’t have one, that’s my feeling. I think it’s very unfair to the player. They could possibly penalize him, but if you’re gonna do that, then they should have penalized him, and let him get on with the job.”

Rory McIlory was outspoken on Twitter about the whole thing.

“This isn’t right for anyone on that golf course. If it was me I wouldn’t hit another shot until this farce was rectified.”

Ben Crane added, “Tricky thing for the USGA is that you can’t hold yourself out as an honor game and not accept a guy’s word. This is tough.”

That’s the problem.

Johnson said he did not cause the ball to move.

The USGA disagreed.

That’s where a bad precedent is set.

After spending 17 years in the golf business, I had to make my share of rulings during events.

The first thing you do is talk to all parties involved.

One thing that is a must during the entire process is to take the player’s word about what happened.

The USGA didn’t do that here and, basically, called Johnson a liar.

Shane Lowry, who held the lead after the third round, called a penalty on himself earlier in the tournament when he told the rules official with the group that he caused the ball to move.

Johnson stood over a par putt on the fifth green Sunday. He took a practice stroke, put the putter behind the ball without grounding the putter and the ball moved.

There are rules officials walking with every group in the U.S. Open. He called the official over and told him what happened. The official said to play on and he made the putt for par.

That was it until the USGA approached Johnson on the 12th tee.

“Based on the video we have seen, we believe there’s going to be a one-stroke penalty; we’ll make the final decision when you come in and see the video and explain it to you,” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said in the Hart story.

My interpretation – Hey D.J., we’re not taking your word for what happened. We think you did cause the ball to move. So, hopefully you win this thing by at least two shots so we won’t have a Monday playoff. And, D.J., please don’t tie for the lead because then this will be really bad.”

The USGA tried to explain the whole process, but, in reality, people just weren’t buying it.

They also told every player in the field what might happen at the end of the round.

Not sure what that really did, though.

“Well, basically, take Johnson’s score and subtract one.”

Is that really an answer?

I know how Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon felt, having been inside the ropes.

In a story by Martin Kauffman on golfweek.com:

Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director, Open Championships, was brought into the 18th tower to be interrogated. OK, they kept it civil, but Fox announcers Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon made clear they were not happy with the prospect that the USGA would dock Johnson a penalty stroke because his ball moved on the fifth green.

“It sounded like Jeff Hall (indicated) they’ve already made the decision that it’s going to be a penalty,” Azinger said after Hall had departed.

“I’m really fired up …” Faxon said. “They have to take (Johnson’s) word for it that it didn’t move. What other sport would wait until the end to make a decision? This is ridiculous.”

Everyone else pretty much thought the same thing.

Johnson shot 68 to finish at 5-under par and win by four shots.

The penalty shot eventually came, so he won by three.

The bottom line is Johnson did everything right. He called the official over and was truthful.

The problem is the USGA didn’t believe him and imposed a penalty that shouldn’t have happened.

Johnson was docked under Rule 18-2/0.5 decision: “If it is more likely than not that you caused your ball to move, you incur a one-stroke penalty and must replace the ball.”

Apparently, this came from the Ted Wells report.

More likely than not.

What does that even mean?

The USGA pulled a Jean Van de Velde.

“Still, watching the video, I still don’t think I caused the ball to move, but the USGA, they said I did. I don’t even understand the rule, but I got a penalty. It didn’t matter at the end of the day. That’s it,” Johnson said while sitting in the press conference after his win with the U.S. Open trophy next to him.

The rule was put into place to protect the golfer.

That didn’t happen here.

“When you look back at the whole issue, you can break it down into two parts. It’s a rules of golf issue, of trying to make sure that you apply the rules correctly the way they’re written. And we do believe we did that,” Davis said in a story by Will Gray on golfchannel.com. “But there’s another part of it in terms of the conduct of the championship itself, and that’s where we’d really like a mulligan because clearly we made a big bogey.

“That really gets down to putting in essence the championship on the final day almost in limbo to where the players, and in this case Dustin, didn’t know where he stood in terms of a score. That’s where, if we could do it again, we should have just applied the penalty once we looked at the video.”

Unfortunately, only the USGA believes it was a penalty.

“In this case, what it was was a timing issue. The championship deserved to have clarity at that time, and simply put, we didn’t provide that clarity,” Davis said in the Gray article. “We strongly believe we got the ruling right, we just didn’t apply it in the proper timing and sequence. And that’s where, as I say, I think we bogeyed, and for that we truly regret and furthermore apologize for the way that was handled.”

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at mmathison@heraldstaronline.com or followed on Twitter at @MathisonMike).


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