Sports

Liguori: A Bunker Clunker

A PGA of America rules official chats with Dustin Johnson (R) on the 18th green during the final round of the 92nd PGA Championship on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits on August 15, 2010 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

A PGA of America rules official chats with Dustin Johnson (R) on the 18th green during the final round of the 92nd PGA Championship on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits on August 15, 2010 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

What a disaster for golfer Dustin Johnson who suffered another mishap after being in the lead of another Major this year. At the US Open in Pebble Beach in June, where he had a three-shot lead going into the final round, Johnson derailed on the second hole to make triple bogey. He eventually ended with an ’82,’ finishing tied for eighth. In the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday and on the final hole, leading by one shot, Johnson was penalized for ‘grounding’ his club in a bunker that he did not know was a bunker. The two-shot penalty cost him an opportunity to compete in a three- man play -off for another chance to win a Major Championship.

Either Dustin Johnson has horrible luck, or he and his caddie need to wake up and pay closer attention, or both.

With a one-shot lead on the final hole, Johnson’s tee shot on the 18th landed way right of the fairway in a small patch of sand where spectators had been walking all week. Apparently that tiny patch of sand was one of over 1000 bunkers on the golf course. To Johnson, it looked like some grass that had been trampled by spectators, who gathered so close around him when he hit his shot, that the thought that he was in a bunker, never occurred to him. So, unaware that he was in a bunker, he ‘grounded’ his club which is against the rules. Johnson then missed a seven foot putt for par which would have won the tournament, or so he thought. At 11 under, he then figured he would be joining Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer in a play-off.

But apparently the following ‘supplementary’ rules of play were posted in the locker room at Whistling Straits and Johnson admitted he never read the rule. Nick Watson, whom Johnson was playing with, admitted he had not read the rule either:

1. Bunkers: All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of 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 tire tracks during the play of the Championship. Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions.

Immediately afterwards, Johnson was told of his mistake by a PGA official. In the scoring area, you could see Johnson changing the ‘5’ on his scorecard to a ‘7,’ going from a bogey to a triple bogey and to finishing tied for fifth. The 26-year-old would have to swallow yet another major disappointment, this time because of a bunker that he and his caddie were unaware of.

As much as Johnson and his caddie and any golfer and caddie playing in a tournament should know all the rules and make it a point to read everything, in defense of Johnson and his caddie, to me, the area where he grounded his club looked like a dried out, part sand, part grassy area of the golf course. The gallery lined up on both sides so close to Johnson as he hit his four iron that few viewers would ever suspect he was hitting out of a bunker. So I can certainly understand how Johnson and his caddie may not ever have suspected that the area was a bunker. And the thought of calling over an official probably did not ever occur to Johnson because he obviously did not think he was in a bunker!

But a bunker it is and so the finish became quite controversial. For all of you golf historians – do you remember reading about the controversial finish suffered by Roberto DeVicenzo, when he signed for a higher score than he actually shot in the 1968 Masters? That blunder kept him out of a play-off against Bob Goalby.

Ironically, in the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Stuart Appleby, unaware of the same rule regarding bunkers there, was assessed a four-shot penalty in the third round. Six years later, Dustin Johnson and his caddie make the same mistake!

Lost in the controversial finish was the winner, a German player named Martin Kaymer, who ended up beating Bubba Watson in the three-hole play-off. And Nick Watney, who had a three-shot lead heading into the final round, fell apart after his double bogie on the first hole and ended up shooting an 81.

If there is any consolation for Johnson at this point, his solid play landed him high enough in the standings to make the Ryder Cup team which will be played in Wales October 1-3. And he obviously has mentally recovered from his disasterous performance in the final round at Pebble, showing that he too will recover from this most recent disappointment.

And this crazy ending proves once again, that one way or another, there is ALWAYS drama at a Major Championship in golf, even when Tiger finishes tied for 28th.

Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at www.annliguori.com and order copies of her book and her interviews on DVDs with some of the top names in sports.