As a young man, I was taught that the game of golf defined your character and integrity as a human being. We call penalties on ourselves. We call penalties on our fellow players. We do this because it is the rules of golf and also to protect the rest of the field. Golf is an imperfect game with a perfect set of rules.
At the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, millions of golfing enthusiasts viewed these rules being enforced by PGA rules officials, specifically the rule of "grounding your club in a hazard." PGA golfer Dustin Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for violating this rule. Although the venue, which has 1,200-plus bunkers, stipulated in a posted notice to all players what was classified as a bunker, I feel that Johnson was not treated fairly by the course rules officials for my own reasons.
The bunkers outside the ropes should have been treated as "waste bunkers" because spectators were trekking through them, kids playing in them and some were strewn with trash. The other major championship venues, such as the Masters, would never allow this to happen. They employ marshals to protect these areas. Where were the marshals on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits? When Johnson approached his ball, he did not know it was a bunker because the spectators were crowded around the ball. They were in fact in the bunker just a few feet away. If the marshal had removed the crowd out of the bunker, Johnson might have realized it was a bunker situation or at least would have asked the rules official, who was walking with him. I am guessing that the marshal didn't even know that it was a bunker. This was a piece of ground on a hill with some sand scattered in and around it. Not a sculptured bunker that PGA players are used to.
The rules officials stated that Johnson had grounded his club in the hazard, not once, but twice. So why didn't he get assessed a four-stroke penalty instead of two strokes? Why? Because they were embarrassed by the situation.
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They, in fact, violated the rules that they were mandated to enforce by the PGA.
Whistling Straits is a "slumdog" course compared to the rest of the PGA tournament venues that are finely tuned, not only in course structure, but the rules officials and marshals employed to control it. The PGA should cancel the next championship there in 2015.
Because of what happened, Dustin Johnson will be longer remembered for the way he lost his chance to win the PGA championship than Martin Kaymer for winning it.
Johnson is a class act by the way he accepted the penalty and handling his emotions. If anything, he gained a lot of popularity with the golfing world.
The writer lives in Conway.