After a day of reflection, the United States Golf Association joined the rest of the golf world in realizing the error of its ways.
The USGA issued a statement late Monday afternoon – i.e. an apology – for the way it handled the assessing of a one-stroke penalty to Dustin Johnson on Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Open.
The Irmo native managed to claim his first major championship by three strokes despite being assessed the one-stroke penalty at the conclusion of play.
The USGA has Johnson to thank for playing through the organization’s blunder well enough to win by multiple strokes and avoid an embarrassing and full-blown controversy.
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Dustin is a wonderful champion, a talented golfer and a gentleman.
The USGA came under fire from players, media and fans alike more for the manner in which it assessed the penalty than for the penalty itself, which was also contested publicly.
Johnson was ultimately assessed a one-stroke penalty because his ball moved on the fifth green after he initially addressed it, and USGA officials determined video evidence showed Johnson’s actions “more likely than not” caused the ball to move. That is the standard the USGA uses in applying Rule 18-2, which deals with a ball at rest that moves.
On the green, Johnson took a couple practice swings, placed his putter on the ground adjacent to the ball, then lifted his putter and hovered it behind the ball, at which time the ball slightly moved on Oakmont Country Club’s slick and undulating greens.
Johnson called for the rules official following the group, explained the happenings, and proceeded to hole the putt after the official told him there would be no penalty based on what he had seen and Johnson’s explanation.
After reviewing the video, USGA officials determined a penalty might be warranted, and with Johnson about to tee off on the 12th hole with a slim lead, Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and competition, approached him, asked him a couple questions, and informed Johnson that officials planned to review the ruling after the round and that he might be penalized a stroke.
Other players in contention were quickly notified of the possible penalty as well. So Johnson and his competitors played much of the back nine uncertain of his score, and therefore uncertain of where they stood in regard to his score.
The USGA had all the information it needed on video to make a decision, and apparently knowing all along it planned to assess a one-stroke penalty, it could have informed Johnson of its decision and allow him and his competitors to play the final holes accordingly.
Our team at the USGA has seen and heard a great deal of discussion and debate about the ruling on Dustin’s ball moving during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club.
In its release Monday, the USGA stated: “Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the score card is returned. While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leaderboard. … This created unnecessary ambiguity for Dustin and the other players, as well as spectators on-site, and those watching and listening on television and digital channels.”
Johnson’s past failures at major championships included a three-putt from 12 feet on the 72nd hole in last year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay that left him a stroke behind Jordan Spieth, and a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club a dirt-patch bunker on the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship that kept him from a playoff.
The weight of the uncertainty of his score for the final seven holes Sunday could have contributed to another major setback. But Johnson persevered, and Monday the USGA thanked him and the other players “for their professionalism and grace throughout the championship.”
The USGA has vowed to examine its procedures, stating: “We will assess our procedures for handling video review, the timing of such, and our communication with players to make sure that when confronted with such a situation again, we will have a better process.”
If you’d like to weigh in, the USGA has established an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and phone mailbox (908-326-1857) to receive comments.