Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rules Are Rules, Right?

If you're a person that watches a lot of golf, or grew up with a father that taught you golf, you probably heard about the way Jack Nicklaus hit golf shots. No, not his majestic iron shots or powerful drives, but the way he actually set up to hit them. Jack never grounded his club ... ever. He did that because he realized early on in his golfing life that if he put his club down behind the ball, there might be an instance where it moved. Sure, it might NEVER, EVER happen, but it could, and Jack was meticulous. No reason to put yourself in a fuzzy situation if you don't have to, right?

That is what happened to poor Dustin Johnson on Sunday. In a "bunker that wasn't a bunker," Johnson set his club down for just an instance. A second, or millisecond, or however long it was, but it was long enough. Those are the rules of golf. Do something wrong, and no matter how it helps or hurts you, you're going to be penalized.

There are a ton of things in this crazy game that make little sense. I'm reminded of a time I was out at Arizona National, covering a women's golf tournament for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, a newspaper I wrote for all through my university years. A scoring official with wrinkles covering his face and calluses covering his hands offered me a ride around the course. A wise man that knows the game of golf like Bobby Fischer knew chess waited a couple of holes before he told me something. "You might recognize my name," Doc Graves told me, "I'm the idiot from that Rick Reilly story." Yep, Graves was the man that disqualified a man for a kids club that was found in the bottom of his golf bag at the Arizona Mid-Amateur when he had an 11-shot lead. His kid had put the club in there the night before. He never knew it was there. But, that's golf. The rule is 14 clubs. One more and you're playing illegally.

Everyone that has a whiskey shot of intelligence knows that Dustin Johnson wasn't cheating on the 72nd hole, when he yanked his second shot left of the green, eventually make a bogey that put him in a playoff for about 12 seconds. He wasn't cheating. He wasn't trying to test the conditions or get an advantage. He just didn't know. This is one of the few times that ignorance isn't bliss. Dustin thought he was in an area trampled down by fans, which was partially true.

But it was a bunker. It was a bunker. A fucking bunker that Pete Dye had put there, along with 999 of its closest buddies. A bunker is a hazard, and you can't ground your club in a bunker, just like you can't stick the end of the rake in the sand to test how deep it plays. The reason is to avoid someone getting an advantage that others wouldn't have. While this wasn't one of those instances, the rules are black and white. Set your club down in a bunker, and you are going to be penalized.

I was as heated as anyone about what happened to Johnson, who years from now might be looking back at 2010 as the year that doomed his confidence. Golfers are crazy people, and the littlest of things can rattle you for good (just look at Charles Barkley's golf swing). Hopefully he will bounce back and win a major or two. Hopefully he can take this with a grain of, gulp, sand salt and understand that it wasn't his fault. He didn't know what he was doing, but he plays a game where stuff like this happens.

Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully. For now, we have a man that was stripped of a chance to win a major championship because nobody knew. It's a sad day for golfers. If only Jack had taught a few of these guys how to hit good shots while hovering your club over the ball.

Getty Images


Phillip Woeckener said...

Pete Dye is a 7 letter expletive that begins with "A" and ends with "E". Railroad ties and tricked up golf courses should not be allowed at major championships. I blame the PGA of America for allowing this sort of lunacy to damage the legitimacy of this tournament. Just another in a long line of examples that makes the PGA Championship the least prestigious of all the majors. And that is not even debatable.

randy kim said...

great column, shane.

chris_villasenor said...

Dustin Johnson showed a lot of heart bouncing back from his collapse at Pebble so I'm inclined to think that this will just be a notable story on his way to a major or 2. The real winner here is Nick Watney. No one seems to recall that he was even in the tournament now.

Will said...

My heart goes out to Dustin but I'm really not that upset about the call. The PGA had this as their top local rule for the week and went out of their way to tell the players to watch out for bunkers that don't look like bunkers. I get the crowd, but in retrospect, knowing the local rule you can’t look at that footage and say I never would have guessed it’s a bunker. It was clearly a bunker. I'd feel worse if this was like 200 yards right, under a shed, etc. This was just right of the fairway, in a bunker CLEARLY marked on the yardage book. So, I blame the caddy. He missed dropped the ball twice, 1.) his job is to pay attention to local rules, and 2.) his job to know the holes. .... I really don't think this takes a away from the prestige of the event. If this would have happened in the US Open (say Shinnecock) do you really think the USGA would have said, "It's okay. Go play in the play off and just don't do it again."!?

Roody said...

Last I knew it wasn't customary for people to stand in a "bunker".

Mel said...

I think Dustin Johnson should have been penalised a second time for asking the crowd to move and block a sliver of sunlight that was shining in the bunker. He can ask them to stop shuffling around but he can't ask them to move to a specific spot. He has a great physical game but his mental game needs work.

Phil said...

No one seems to recall that he was even in the tournament now, that is the truth Chris. Hey, were you able to find a buyer for your clunker? You should check out we buy junk cars orlando if you are still trying to sell that junker for some quick cash. We need to get back out on the course again.