I don’t know if Dustin Johnson wins the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits today, but the ruling he received on the 18th hole was one of the most ridiculous rulings I have seen in a major golf event. What happened today is exactly why the PGA is considered the 4th of the majors. The USGA and the R&A would have never considered one of those sandy areas outside the ropes as a bunker that required players not ground their club at address. To call that patch of sand that may or may not have had a lip on it a bunker was a terrible ruling. It had been trampled by the gallery and looked like a bare patch seen outside the ropes in every golf tournament. Sure, he could have called a rules official over or assumed that it was a bunker when he was preparing for his shot. I’m not sure that any other professional (or amateur) would have done the same thing.
Johnson handled the ruling like a gentleman playing a gentleman’s game. He handled the post-round interview with CBS with grace and resisted the urge to call out the Rules Committee for their handling of the situation when given an opportunity. While he didn’t win the tournament, he elevated his status in the game today by his actions after the round.
When Whistling Straits plays host to the Ryder Cup in a few years, this rule must get figured out where it’s the fairest for all players involved. If the Cup comes down to a ruling like this, we may have an English soccer hooligan situation unfolds on the shores of Lake Michigan.
This local rule was wrongheaded by the PGA of America and was the result of a similar situation with Stuart Appleby in the 2004 PGA. They should come out, admit that this was a poor choice of rule, and make sure this doesn’t happen again at Whistling Straits. Otherwise, the PGA should remove this beautiful, diabolical Pete Dye layout from the championship rotation.
This ruling will overshadow what would have been a great ending to the championship. Johnson’s birdies at 16 and 17 to take the lead to the 72nd tee, Bubba Watson’s play coming down the stretch, and Martin Kaymer’s clutch par putt at the last hole were great golf theater. It’s too bad the PGA and its zero-tolerance local rule ruined the ending of the tournament.
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