Dustin Johnson missed out on his chance to be in the PGA Championship playoff because of a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker before his second shot on the 72nd hole. He says it didn’t even occur to him that it was a bunker. It should have.
Before I continue, I should probably explain that I have always been a “rules are rules” kind of guy. And for every rule of golf that seems capricious (you can’t ground your club in a hazard), there is another rule that will allow you gain an advantage whenever possible (you can take a drop on the OTHER side of a lateral hazard if it will afford you a better lie).
Now back to Dustin. Because of the unique character of the Whistling Straits course (967 bunkers), the PGA of America determined before the tournament started that each one of those 967 bunkers would be played as a bunker. No grounding of the club! We can argue the relative merits of that rule, but everybody knew what the rule was from day one. It was posted very clearly in the players locker room and there was plenty of discussion about it. So when Johnson sprayed his drive way right into the gallery on the 18th hole on Sunday, he should have had every expectation that he may have found one of those 967 bunkers. Instead, he assumed that it was just bare ground trampled by a week’s-worth of galleries. And the rest, as they say… well, you know.
Some have made much of the fact that many of these bunkers were “outside the ropes” where fans could walk through, stand in or write their initials in them. However, sometimes the hoards of fans can be a benefit to that same wayward tee ball. A situation that happens probably a dozen times during any given PGA Tour stop is when a player hits a tee shot into what would otherwise be 5-inch-deep rough. But because the fans have been walking in that area all week, the grass is matted down, affording the player a relatively easy shot. Compare that to the player that lands in the same rough but “inside” the ropes. He’s met with the full strength of 5-inch rough. Is that fair? That the guy that just barely misses the fairway has a worse lie than the player that sliced into the crowd? Maybe not. But that’s what’s known in golf as “the rub of the green”
Dustin Johnson could have avoided the whole mess by hitting a better tee shot on the 72nd hole. But he didn’t. Thus, he had to play by the rules. And… rules are rules.