PGA ruling: Fans say golf got it wrong
Kyle Flinton, the head pro at Quail Creek Golf & Country Club, played in the PGA Championship last week. He shot 76-78 and missed the cut, but just qualifying for the PGA is a great accomplishment for a club pro.
Flinton took exception with my Tuesday column on the Dustin Johnson fiasco, in which Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in what Whistling Straits officials deemed a bunker, even though on most every other course in the world, those elements would have been scraggle, a combination of dirt, sand, trash and pebbles.
Anyway, Flinton wrote me to offer his view of why PGA officials made the correct call.
“What does the words ‘All areas of the course’ mean to you? To me, it means all areas of the course whether it was in Colorado, Waukesha or Chickasha. But as a PGA member and a local club professional that played at Whistling Straits, the ruling was correct, even though a sports writer doesn’t understand it. The rule was posted in both locker rooms from the start of the week. It is sad that a PGA Touring professional and his caddy forgot to read the message boards prior to the start of the week, but don’t blame the PGA and its officials. And to say that the NFL has it right is absurd. The rules for the NBA, NFL, MLB change with the wind or whoever is officiating their games. I have never seen rules fluctuate more than they do in other sports. At least in golf they are written out for you prior to playing. If you don’t know the rules or decide not to play by them, then that is your problem. If you were to give the PGA touring players a rules quiz, I would say that 75% of them would flunk. You are trying to blame the PGA of America and its rules officials, when the only person you can blame in golf is yourself. Hopefully, Dustin Johnson will look into the mirror and realize this was a learning lesson on the long road to the final green.”
Here’s how I responded. “You make some good points. However, I still say, just because some people at Whistling Straits call something a bunker, that doesn’t make it a bunker.”
Three days later, here’s what I would add. The rules for the NFL, the NBA and MLB do NOT change with the wind or whoever is officiating. The rules can change year to year, after the proper authorities meet, but I assume that’s the same in golf. The difference is golf is this: selective enforcement. If the NFL uses replay, it uses replay on every minute and every game. Golf uses replay WHEN IT FEELS LIKE IT. In other words, when the cameras are on the leaders. What are the chances that all kinds of guys at Whistling Straits grounded their club in the scraggle and were not assessed a two-stroke penalty? Great. But no one was watching, no cameras picked it up, so no one knew it happened. Selective enforcement is by far worse than anything going in the NFL or NBA or MLB. And in the NFL, the rules in Heinz Field are the same as the rules in Dolphins Stadium. Yet you get to the PGA, and the definition of a bunker has changed. When the rules fluctuate week to week, you’ve got problems.
Anyway, enough of that. What really astounds me is the overwhelming support for my column. The only downer to writing what I wrote was I expected the aristocracy attitude of golf to descend on me. Didn’t happen. Support for Dustin Johnson was amazing. Here are the dispatches I received.
Dan: “Thanks for stating the obvious that everyone is thinking. I love golf, but those anal officials seem to take pride in their inability to develop any intelligence at all. They seem to think this is a virtue. I’m done watching golf and waiting for talentless officials to steal honest effort from the players. Who will penalize the officials for the ill defined ‘hazards’ in their minds that ruin our enjoyment of the game of golf?”
Al: “Thanks for your excellent analysis of the bizarre finish of the PGA. I think one other element should be considered when analyzing the entire event – the choice of Whistling Straits as the venue! And the ‘bluebloods’ of the golfing hierarchy who have chosen that God-forsaken wasteland for the 2015 PGA! I am 85 years old and have played golf since I was five. In my lifetime I have played 1,300-plus golf courses in the U.S., including at least one course in every state and a number of courses in Europe. I am ecstatic to proclaim that I had the good sense to avoid Whistling Straits, although I have played many of the other major tournament sites. I could not believe the network PGA shills who raved about the ‘rugged beauty’ of that 1,200 ‘bunker’ travesty.”
Richard: “In a group of 100 golfers, I doubt you could find two who know the rules and even less who adhere to those rules. I play to an 8 index and have read the rules at least once a year since I started at age 57. It is certain that I could master the rules of physics quicker than the rules of golf. With groups waiting to hit behind you, how many players who hit out of bounds go back and hit from the correct location? You drop from the spot it went out and keep the course play to the four-hours goal.”
Jerry: “I caught the problem about the ‘sand traps.’ I agree with you analysis of this… Total nonsense!”
Frederick: “I have no great problem with golf’s rules, but that thing the other day was ridiculous. An interesting thing about golf. At the highest level, it is as honorable a game as there is, rules-wise. But at EVERY level below that, it is loaded with nothing but cheats and sandbaggers. Ridiculous.”
Charlie: “Very disappointed with the recent 2010 PGA championship. The situation with Dustin Johnson is the worst I have ever seen (and in a major). Where were the marshals to clear the crowd back 20 yards on each side? Then maybe someone would have identified that the ball may be one of the undetermined x number of sand traps. I have never been on any golf course where players, bystanders, fans are allowed to stand in a sand trap. TV viewers, TV announcers, fans on the course, the player, the caddy, nobody could tell that was a sand trap versus basically trampled, sandy ground. Oh and yes, let’s not call it until he finishes the hole. Huh? So I fault Whistling Straits, totally over-rated, over-designed (it does have nice water views). Even to have to post a special rule before the tournament that all traps are played as traps. That in and of itself should tell you that something about that course was weird and something weird could happen. And it did. One announcer mentioned that Whistling Straits had so many bunkers, course officials didn’t know how many it had. What is that all about? Whatever happened to waste bunkers and sandy soil? The ruling on Dustin Johnson really destroyed this golf tournament. Watch the crowd reaction when the playoff was over. Very ho hum, ‘look who won,’ ‘who cares,’ after the PGA ruling. Very anti-climactic, and the proud winner will always be remembered as winning the one the PGA screwed up. And had Dustin Johnson been in the playoff, no matter who won, it would have been at least a fair and honorable sudden death. No wonder people get turned off to professional golf. It is only a sport for the elite, who make or amend the rules according to their home field or whim. And of course, the rulemakers are always right. I’m sure the old Scots are having a good laugh over this one.”
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