USGA admits it needed mulligan

USGA executive director Mike Davis did admit the organization needed a “mulligan” for delaying a decision on whether Dustin Johnson would occur a penalty for a ball moving on the fifth green in the final round of the U.S. Open.
However, in other statements, the USGA officials definitely felt they made the right call that Johnson deserved a one-stroke penalty:
“During any competition, the priority for rules officials is to make the correct ruling for the protection of the player(s) involved and the entire field. In applying Rule 18-2, which deals with a ball at rest that moves, officials consider all the relevant evidence – including the player’s actions, the time between those actions and the movement of the ball, the lie of the ball, and course and weather conditions. If that evidence, considered together, shows that it is more likely than not that the player’s actions caused the ball to move, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty. Officials use this “more likely than not” standard because it is not always apparent what caused the ball to move. Such situations require a review of the evidence, with Decision 18-2/0.5 providing guidance on how the evidence should be weighed.”
As I recall, an exception was added to Rule 18-2 in 2012 which said no penalty would be given when wind and/or gravity made it “virtually certain the player did not cause the ball to move.”
Then in January this year, it was rewritten to eliminate the grounded club as a main trigger for any penalty and just ask if the player caused the ball to move.
Here is how it reads: “If the weight of evidence (looks likes that is 51%) indicates that it is more likely than not the player caused the ball to move, even thought that conclusion is not free from doubt, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced.”
In my opinion, and that of others, to assess a penalty, the evidence that the player caused the ball to move should read “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On the fifth green of the final round, Johnson had first moved his ball to get out of the line of fellow competitor Lee Westood, and then replaced it. He took a couple of practice swing to the side of the ball, actually closer to the ball than most players. Then as he moved the putter behind the ball, without grounding it, he noticed the ball had moved.
He informed Mark Newell, who is is chairman of the USGA rules committee and a rules official with the group, of what happened, but indicated he had not caused the ball to move, a claim supported by his competitor Westwood. Newell told him to play the ball with no penalty.
Unlike other sports, one of the fundamentals to the rules is that it is the player’s responsibility to call a penalty if he feels he did something wrong. Johnson didn’t in this case. That should have settled the issue. Golf is supposed to be a game of integrity.
However, the USGA decided it should review the video, but it wasn’t until Jeff Hall and Thomas Pagel approached him on the 12th tee that Johnson was aware of a possible penalty. They just said the video would be reviewed at the end of the round. In reality it was obvious to me that the two rules officials had already made that determination and should have told him so right there.
Johnson was forced to play the final seven holes not knowing exactly how he stood to par. Everyone else in the hunt at Oakmont also played for two hours not knowing the score. Everyone’s strategy, of course, is based on the leader’s score.
The USGA’s move did trigger one of the biggest backlashes the sport has ever seen as word spread through the crowd. The other players took to social media to voice their complaints, too. Even Jack Nicklaus, who was on site, questioned the USGA about its actions. Not one player defended the ruling.
Jordan Spieth, who as a player tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve during competition, told the media he likely would not have taken the ruling – or lack thereof – as well as Johnson did.
“I promise you, I would have thrown a fit,” he said. “I wouldn’t have hit another shot. I would have sat there like, ‘This is not the way this goes. Let’s figure this out right now.’ You can’t have a potential penalty or not – you’ve got to know in that case.”
Rory McIlroy also said he would have not continued play until a decision was made.
Johnson erased any doubt about the outcome and saved the USGA farther embarrassment by sticking to his game play and surviving the final stretch at Oakmont while all his nearest opponents faltered with late bogies. A birdie on the difficult 18 just made the margin three instead of four after the USGA did ultimately give him a one-stroke penalty.
Johnson indicated later he did put up an argument as he didn’t believe he did anything to make the ball move. “But at that point I was ready to sign my scorecard and get my trophy, so I just said, ‘Give me the penalty, let’s go,” he said.
When the green speeds get as fast as they do now, especially on greens like the ones at Oakmont rolling at 15 on the stimpmeter, there probably were other similar situations in the U.S. Open with balls moving that weren’t caught on video.
One other one was caught on video earlier in the final round, involving Romain Wattel. He faced a short putt and after grounding his putter for five seconds behind the ball, he looked down and noticed the ball had moved. Just as Newell did with Johnson, the official Dr. Lew Blakely ruled that he had not caused the ball to move.
I think the USGA’s obsession with green speed has reached a point where they need to not do all the double and triple cutting and rolling of the greens for future events. It’s OK to make courses difficult for even the game’s better players, but let’s keep it a fair challenge.
In closing, I have wondered why there is even a penalty involved in such situations. Treat it sort of like accidently nudging the ball off the tee at address and just amend the rule to allow the ball to be replaced where it was if the ball was not touched by the player.
Also, video replay shouldn’t be used to make such decisions either.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)