Dustin Johnson in a "real" bunker.
What Were They Thinking?
By Snyper on 8/16/10
Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. His column will appear each Monday on ClubSG. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.

The PGA Championship proved to be another great week of golf and for the PGA Tour. Unfortunately, the rules committee did their best to ruin, or at least taint, the finish forever. For any of you who may have missed it, Dustin Johnson made two great birdies on 16 and 17 to take the lead on the final day. Then, on 18, he made what he thought was a bogie, which landed him in a 3-way tie with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson. But, thanks to an absolutely stupid rules decision, Johnson was penalized two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker on 18. That penalty meant that he went from a chance to win in the playoff to a tie for 5th place. Unbelievable.

Whistling Straits has somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 bunkers.

Now, lets get to the reason that this situation ever happened. Whistling Straits has somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 bunkers. Many of those bunkers are located in areas of the course that fans are permitted to walk and stand to watch the tournament. The PGA Rules Committee addressed these bunkers that are located "outside the ropes" and it was determined by them that all areas that were designed and built as bunkers would be played as hazards. That meant that players had to address these sand traps with the same approach as a normal bunker on any golf course. The only exception was that a local rule was instated allowing players to remove stones from these bunkers. The players were all notified of this decision in a bulletin that was issued before the tournament began.

Ok, they let the players know ahead of time via a bulletin. Fair enough, I guess. But, why in the world would you force players to play out of bunkers that the gallery is walking through and that equipment is being driven through as if they were a typical sand bunker/hazard? These bunkers are the very definition of waste bunkers! They were being used as a part of walkways and cart paths. How simple would it have been to state that all sandy areas, outside the ropes, were to be played as waste bunkers? This would allow players to play a lie in these random sandy areas as if it were a lie in the rough. After all, did you see the “bunker” he was in? It was a joke! It was a trampled down sandy patch of ground. It didn't look like any bunker that I have ever seen on a golf course. And, apparently, Dustin Johnson felt the same way. It never crossed his mind that he was in a sand trap, because he wasn't!
The PGA Rules Committee decided that it would be fun to have people walk around and drive carts through the bunkers.

Anybody who has ever watched a PGA Tour event has seen the precision and care that is given to the bunkers at every course on Tour. They are perfectly raked and manicured. However, this week, the PGA Rules Committee decided that it would be fun to have people walk around and drive carts through the bunkers. Are you kidding me!? What logic is there behind that decision? How does that do anything except create countless possible problems for the players and officials? You just call them waste bunkers and the story is over! Dustin Johnson finishes with a bogie and goes into a 3-way playoff. Whoever wins is known for winning a major in the most clutch of all situations and golf fans everywhere celebrate an awesome tournament finish. Instead, few will remember the winner and Johnson will be remembered for losing a shot at a major championship title on a technicality. Good job PGA! You really got it right on this decision. The only thing that they have to be thankful for is that Johnson didn’t make his par putt on 18. If that putt had gone in, the place would have gone crazy and he would have been celebrating his first major championship only to have it all ripped away from him. That would have been an absolute travesty and the PGA Tour would have looked even more irresponsible than they already do.

I was once told that out of all bad, there is some good. In this case, the good that resulted from this monumental blunder in judgment was the class that Dustin Johnson displayed in such a brutal moment. Not only did he agree to do an interview only minutes after all this had happened, he never even complained about the decision. He had nothing but good things to say! He referred to the situation as an “unfortunate incident” and focused on the fact that he had played really well and that he was happy with his game. In fact, he even blamed himself and commented that he should have looked at the rules sheet a little harder. True as that may have been, it took a lot of class to accept that as his mistake so soon after it had happened. I can only imagine the emotions that he was feeling at that point in time, but he didn’t blame anyone other than himself. That was very classy and great to see from such a young player.

Call them what they are, waste bunkers. Otherwise, keep the fans, golf carts, and maintenance vehicles out of them!

So, since he didn’t do it, I figured that I would blame the true culprit in this injustice. I hope the Rules Committee does a little more thinking before they create any more "traps" for players to fall into. Call them what they are, waste bunkers, and let us enjoy the thrill of a 3-way playoff to crown a champion! Otherwise, keep the fans, golf carts, and maintenance vehicles out of them! It doesn’t seem like that crazy of a request, does it?

* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of SkyGolf.

photo source

[ comments ]
Mr_Topher says:
one of the commits "excuses" for all bunkers being real bunkers was based on how do they judge a bunker that has the gallery line crossing through it and not all the way around. I think the board guy said something to the effect of "we cant take half the bunker as waste and the other half as normal" which is dumb, they just have to effect that if any bunker or part of the bunker is on the playing side of the rope, its a bunker. and that would be fine. players would see the bunker, even if it were only half and know what it was, preventing this from happening.

When I was watching and saw Dustin ball hit that dirt my first and only thought was "wow, that grass is killed from all the people walking on it!" never occurred to me or anyone else for that matter that it was a bunker.
scheff83 says:
I was also watching and when Dustin hit the ball off the 18th tee I yelled into the other room to my wife that he hit into the crowd into a trampled bunker, so it did accure to some of us that it was in fact a bunker. As for Matt's comment (How simple would it have been to state that all sandy areas, outside the ropes, were to be played as waste bunkers?)I respond, how simple would it have been for Dustin or his caddy to ask 1 simple question ,"Is this a bunker"? I agree the way Dustin Johnson handled the whole unfortunate situation was very classy and I'm sure we have not seen the last of him in major tournaments. Keep in mind, Golf is a game of fortune and misfortune, We have all had lies in which we either take strokes or make up more lies. It is really what makes golf so darn addicting.
mecooney says:
Should have been designated a waste bunker. Stupid to call it anything else.
penguinn says:
I think everyone needs to get over it. Dustin made a mistake and grounded his club... no ones fault but his own. If he (or any other pro) didn't like the rules that the PGA had in place, they didn't have to play.
nbryden says:
The only person at fault in this situation was Dustin Johnson, and possibly his caddie. He is a professional golfer, who failed to read the rules of the competition which were distributed to all players and posted in the locker room. It's not like the rule in question was #15 in a long list, it was right up front as the Rule #1. Dustin admitted that he should have read them. If Dustin had read the local rules sheet, he would have enquired of the Rules Official that accompanied their group whether it was a bunker. I'm absolutely sure that this question was asked numerous times by others during the tournament. Professional golfers ask questions frequently during a round to ensure that they don't incur penalties - for example, Bubba spoke several times to the Rules official to determine where he could drop when he went in the hazard during the playoff - in fact, he even asked the official to correct his adjudication at one point (because Bubba knew exactly where he wanted to drop).
paddyhibernian says:
Hear Hear to nbryden.

The first thing every golfer should do when they arrive to play a tournament at a new course is to read the Local Rules. They are there to help and he would have prevented this scenario if not for his arrogance in believing that he didn't need to familiarise himself with them. He stated so immediately he was interviewed after the event. Harrington forgot to sign his card, Roe forgot to exchange cards, Stadler created a stance by kneeling on a towel. They all broke the rules and were penalised. If they had thought about their actions they may have had another tournament or Championship win to their name.
bradclardy says:
No matter what we all think........the rules sheet fully encompassed the ruling. With a million dollars on the line, I think I would have taken a breather and called a rules official just to make sure.
BurlScott says:
In my opinion it is a cow pasture and should never host a PGA event. This is the only course that the pros play that allows fans to walk through the bunkers, poor decision.
CharlesAllenSpears says:
If it does'nt have a rake in it. It is a WASTE BUNKER !
russteej says:
If I am at one of the most recognized courses in north america and there was that much grass in the bunker ,even without 100 people covering 80% of the bunker or playing for a championship, I WOULD assume it was in a waste bunker .
HMTrey says:
I agree waste waste waste all day
HMTrey says:
Not to mention precedent has been set now, anyone can walk in a bunker!!
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