DUSTIN JOHNSON overcame the old scars – and a potential new one – to win his first major with an emphatic victory at the 2016 US Open at the Oakmont Country Club.
Officially it was a three stroke win after USGA officials controversially penalised Johnson one stroke after his ball moved on the fifth green.
Not many in the golfing world agreed with the USGA decision on a rule that was changed only this year to supposedly make it clearer and fairer.
Johnson was deemed to have caused the ball to move after he made a couple of practice strokes and then was in the process of addressing the ball.
Johnson never actually addressed the ball (which no longer essentially matters) and when it moved a tiny amount backward immediately called a rules official. Johnson was adamant at the time he hadn’t caused the ball to move and playing partner Lee Westwood agreed with him.
USGA officials pulled Johnson aside beside the 12th green to say, pending further review, he may or may not be penalised a stroke.
That no doubt put extra pressure on Johnson coming down the stretch and made things confusing for the players chasing him.
After he finished – with his adjusted score of 1-under 69 to close at 4-under for the tournament – the USGA deemed Johnson to be responsible, seemingly because they couldn’t come up with any evidence that anything else had specifically made the ball move.
Johnson later said he “knew it was something we would deal with after the game” but tried not to think about or let it interfere with his play. (Good luck with that once it is in your mind in the final round of a major).
Other players including Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth tweeted as the drama unfolded that they thought the decision was “a joke”.
Johnson appears to have been “convicted” on circumstantial evidence – he grounded his putter head beside the ball after his practice putting stroke, the ball moved shortly after that, so he must have been responsible.
I’ve got news for the USGA, from my lowly playing position as a weekend hacker. Golf balls on the green, apparently at rest, move all the time. Whether there is someone close to them or not. The ball is resting on an imperfect surface and maybe a tiny blade of grass, a tiny pebble, an unseen gnat, a miniscule imperfection in the surface (all things a mere human like Dustin Johnson might not be able to perceive) could have caused the tiny rotation. On the lightning fast Oakmont greens … who knows.
The USGA and R & A changed rule 18.2 as of 1/1/16 to, as explained by the R & A on it’s website:
“Withdrawal of Rule on Ball Moving After Address – Rule 18-2b (Ball Moving After Address) has been withdrawn. This means that if a ball at rest moves after the player addresses it, the player is no longer automatically deemed to have caused the ball to move. A one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 will be applied only when the facts show that the player has caused the ball to move.”
Johnson has a history of final hole disappoints in majors, including the 2010 US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits when he was penalised a shot for grounding his club in a hazard. (The “hazard” looked more like a natural wasteland area to many rather than a designated bunker.)
Last year at Chambers Bay Johnson had a 12-foot eagle putt to win but three-putted to lose to Jordan Spieth by a single stroke.2016 US Open Final Results