OAKMONT, Pennsylvania (Reuters) – The United States Golf Association (USGA) defended its management of a penalty controversy with new champion Dustin Johnson in the final round of the U.S. Open on Sunday.
Johnson was penalized a stroke after the USGA deemed the player was responsible for making his ball move on the fifth green, even though a walking official with the American’s group absolved the player of any wrongdoing.
When Johnson reached the 12th tee, Jeff Hall, USGA managing director of rules and competition, visited the 31-year-old to inform him that he could be assessed a penalty and that the matter would be discussed after the round.
“We were concerned about what we saw and felt obligated to have a conversation with Dustin about it, and the 12th tee presented the best opportunity to do that,” Hall said.
“We had that conversation with Dustin. We told him that what we saw was a concern but we also asked him a couple of questions.”
Hall asked Johnson if there was something else that could have caused the ball to move but the player was adamant he had not grounded his club and did not cause his ball to move.
However, Hall and his fellow committee members felt Johnson’s putter was grounded near the ball as he took his practice swings.
“The grounding of the putter near the ball and the ball’s immediate movement after the club had been grounded, we put Dustin on notice,” Hall said.
“We just wanted him to realize that we were concerned and we wanted to make him aware of that so that he could strategically make decisions that he needed to make for the balance of the round.”
Fortunately for Johnson, the one-shot penalty only served to reduce his margin of victory to three shots.
The USGA were criticized for waiting until the 12th tee to inform Johnson that there may be a penalty assessed with Hall bringing the organization’s senior director of rules Thomas Pagel off the course to view the possible infraction.
“I was out as a rover shadowing the last few groups and received a message from one of our staff who saw the video, came in to review that video, certainly was concerned,” Hall said.
“Thomas being our lead rules expert, I wanted him to look at it as well. By the time we were able to do that, Dustin had already played through the front nine.
“We agreed that we were concerned about what we saw and felt obligated to have a conversation with Dustin about it, and the 12th tee presented the best opportunity to do that.”
Johnson was involved in a similar situation at a major tournament six years ago and would have been all too aware of the consequences of any dropped shots.
In the final round of the 2010 PGA Championship, Johnson held a one-shot lead going to the final hole. He initially appeared to have bogeyed the hole, which would have put him into a three-hole playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer.
However, he received a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the last, dropping him to a tie for fifth place. Kaymer eventually won the playoff.
(Writing by Tim Wharnsby; Editing by John O’Brien)