Sitting in a Colorado cabin last week, watching the PGA on TNT, some announcer mentioned that Whistling Straits had so many bunkers, course officials didn't know how many it had.
"Why don't they just count them?" I asked my brother-in-law.
Now we have our answer. Just like Dustin Johnson, Whistling Straits itself isn't sure what qualifies as a bunker, either.
The PGA Championship ended Sunday in nearly the worst way possible for golf. With another ridiculous penalty via an obscure rule that was ambiguous to begin with. The two-stroke penalty, assessed to Johnson after the conclusion of regulation play, did more than cheat Johnson out of the playoff that included Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.
It cheated golf fans and those who might be interested in becoming golf fans, which the sport needs all that it can find, in this post-Tiger-dominance era.
Golf culture exasperates most of us who don't get bogged down in its courtly ways. The Olympics finally moved beyond the Athenians. Tennis realized not everyone could play on grass. But golf still wants to act more blue-blooded than a debutant ball.
We get all hot and bothered over soccer every four years and its antiquated ways — no time clock, no replay — but we let golf go on down the road with archaic methods of running its sport.
Golf likes to say its players self-police. But the sport does no such thing. Golf calls for self-policing, all right, followed by a dumptruck of a penalty if the self-policing doesn't please the lords. Golf doesn't self-police; it universally-polices. Everyone, literally, can officiate a tournament, so long as you find a way to get word to the organizers.
Johnson's crime: He grounded his club in the scrub off the 18th fairway. You can't ground your club — place your club on the ground around your ball, before the shot — in a hazard. And a sand bunker is a hazard.
Johnson just didn't realize what the Whistling Straits organizers or PGA officials or ghosts of Old Tom Morris considered a bunker.
Here's the policy that sank Johnson: "All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during the play of the Championship."
Which means your ball might come to a rest under a lawn chair that started out the morning in Waukesha, and it's still considered a hazard.
Here's the problem with that rule. How is Dustin Johnson or anyone else supposed to know whether that patch of ground was designed and built as a sand bunker? Frankly, if I was Johnson, I might have asked the PGA honcho who popped me with the two-stroke penalty, "Did you build that area of land? Did you design it?" If the answer is no, then how the heck do you know?
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