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The USGA Should Be Ashamed of Themselves

By: Golfshake Editor | Mon 20 Jun 2016 | Comments

Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements

The record books will show that the 116th US Open was won by three shots by Dustin Johnson, a victory that finally brought to an end a miserable run of near-misses for the big American - they will not show that the closing stages of the tournament were overshadowed by a rules decision that defies belief. Nor will they show the impact that decision had on the closing stages of this great championship.

Johnson was in the process of lining up a putt on the fifth green when his ball moved a fraction. He immediately told his brother Austin, who is also his caddie, and his playing partner, Lee Westwood. The key to this was that Johnson had taken two practice swings but had not grounded his putter as he prepared to address the putt. Westwood was clearly heard telling Johnson that the ball had moved but that he had not addressed the ball. A USGA rules official accompanying the match agreed, told Johnson he had done nothing wrong and should play the ball from where it lay, without penalty. End of story - or at least it should have been.

Countless television replays shown around the world clearly showed that Westwood and the rules official were correct, and that Johnson was an innocent victim of the speed of the greens. And he wasn't the only one to suffer in that way during the tournament. Shane Lowry was penalised early in the week, but he had clearly grounded his putter. Scott Piercy's ball moved as he was about to putt during the third round, but he escaped any penalty because he had not grounded his putter.


That should have been the end of the matter. Unbelievably, as Johnson walked to the 12th tee he was informed by Mike Davis, the head rules official of the USGA, that the incident would be reviewed when he completed his round. Can you imagine how he must have felt? This, after all, is the man who lost the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2010 when he grounded his club in a sand dune at the last hole - and was penalised when informed afterwards that it had been classed as a bunker.

All those in contention at Oakmont were informed that Johnson might be penalised at the end of his round, and at that moment all the positive energy seemed to be drained from the tournament. Word quickly spread on social media and top players took to Twitter to express their disgust. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Rickie Fowler were among those who made their anger clear - and they were joined by tens of thousands of ordinary golf fans, all of whom agreed that they couldn't believe what was happening.

Johnson had not addressed the ball and had not caused it to move. A rules official had already given him the all-clear. So what on earth possessed Davis and his cronies to change that decision? In the end, Johnson was given a one-shot penalty but since he had finished the week leading by four then it didn't matter.

But it did matter. Lowry was clearly affected by the incident. He didn't know whether he was level with Johnson or was trailing him and he quickly three-putted three successive greens. And what would have happened if Johnson had finished one ahead and was then penalised? Or, even worse, if he had finished tied with another player and was then told that a shot was being added to his score?

Several leading lights in the game have described the USGA as a professional organisation run by amateurs. Some would question whether they are even that good. Diana Murphy, the organisation's president, produced a faltering performance at the prize-giving that somehow seemed to sum up everything that had gone before.

The bottom line is that Davis and his team ruined the climax of the tournament, played with the emotions of the man who won and his nearest challengers, and got it wrong. A ruling was given on the fifth green. It was the correct ruling and it should have been the end of the matter.


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