Dustin Johnson is having a memorable summer playing in major golf tournaments. Johnson shared the spotlight in the U.S. Open back in June and again this weekend in the PGA Championship. In both instances it is very likely Johnson’s performance in those two majors will be remembered more than the performance of those who won the titles. The guy’s luck is really going south.
In the June U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Johnson looked unbeatable for 54 holes and took a three shot lead into the final round. A triple bogey on the second hole of Sunday’s final round led to a disastrous final round 82 and the Myrtle Beach native fell off the leader board.
Watching the 25-year-old Johnson fall apart that day was not pleasant. He was clearly out of sorts with his decision making process while making the triple bogey on two that day. Then, as his ship continued to sink as the round continued, you had to wonder if he could recover from such a performance. Those familiar with Johnson and the tour suggested that if anyone could recover, it would be Johnson.
Fast-forward to this past weekend for the season’s final major tournament at Whistling Straits, a Pete Dye design golf course, in Wisconsin, along the shore of Lake Michigan. Golfers, at least most of them, know a little about Pete Dye courses. He is famous for designing visually tricky and demanding golf courses.
The first trip around a typical Dye course can be daunting, because most often he will make the shot from the tee look more difficult than it may actually be. The more you play a particular Dye venue, the more manageable it can become. For example, a Dye Course at Barefoot Resort in South Carolina offers a number of tees where it looks like there is no fairway to hit to, but when you get out to the landing area, there is ample room to hit a tee shot.
In addition to the usual Dye touches, Whistling Straits has another Dye element gone to extremes. That would be the bunkering of the course. It was estimated that Whistling Straits has 1,200 bunkers on the course. That is about 1,000 more than a traditional heavily bunkered course most designers might build. Judging by overhead camera views, some of those bunkers should never be seen by a golfer on that course. Even the worst hacker would have a hard time finding some of them.
Back to Sunday, once again Johnson was in the final pairing. This time he was three shots behind the leader Nick Watney, another young up and comer.
Watney’s final round deteriorated much like Jonson’s had in June. Watney shot an 81 to fall seven shots off the lead and over halfway down the leader board. Johnson hung this time though. He stayed among the leaders all day, sharing that perch with Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Zach Johnson, who is not related.
A strong closing stretch with birdies at 16 and 17 sent Johnson to the 18th tee with a one shot lead. Watson and Kaymer were in the clubhouse, each at 11 under par. All he needed was a par and he would claim the Wanamaker Trophy and put the demons from June to rest.
Johnson’s tee shot on 18 was way right and cameras showed the golf ball sailing into the gallery. The next thing we see is Johnson among the spectators trying to get them arranged so he could play his 212-yard shot off of a sandy lie to the green. He played the shot, but it landed in some ugly looking rough beside the green. He hit a brilliant lob out of the hay to leave a 10-foot putt for the championship. The putt slid right and everyone thought there was going to be a three-man playoff.
Everyone, but the officials, that is. The walking rules official, assigned to his pairing, alerted Johnson, as he was leaving the 18th green, that he might have committed a rules infraction by grounding his club in the fairway bunker on his second shot. To make a long story short, cameras showed that Johnson did ground his club on his second shot. What was incredulous to viewers, and even the CBS announcers, was that where Johnson played the shot from was even considered a bunker.
It is rare and odd to see a ball fly into the gallery, outside the ropes, and come to rest in a bunker not deemed to be a waste bunker. From camera views showing all the people standing around, there was little in evidence that would define the area as a bunker. Some time passed, but the ruling became official, Johnson was assessed a two stroke penalty and would not be in the playoff.
Up until that point, CBS announcers were finding it difficult to understand how the PGA allowed those areas to be played as regular sand bunkers and not waste areas. Then it was explained that a local rules sheet was given to each player and posted throughout the locker rooms explaining this detail. Not only was the bunker issue addressed, but also was first on the list. That doesn’t explain why the bunkers were played the way they were, but it made the decision on the penalty easy to make.
There really was no wiggle room for Johnson then. He needed to know that rule. Stuart Appleby committed the same infraction there in 2004, so there was precedent. An argument could be made that the rules official assigned to the pairing could have offered a heads up. That is true, but it remains the responsibility of the player to know the rule, even if the situation looked for the entire world like a ball lying on trampled dirt, nothing more, nothing less. So, with that, Martin Kaymer of Germany is the 2010 PGA champion.