A bunker, is a bunker, is a bunker. Or not.
We all know what happened.
Just as we were relishing the thought of an exciting three-way playoff in the PGA Championship, Dustin Johnson was slapped with a two stroke penalty, one that would be debated by the folks at Golf Central and in the blogs for days to come.
Johnson had played brilliantly but by grounding his club on the 18th hole of Pete Dye’s Whistling Straits wild track, instead of winning a possible $1.35 million, he ended up with $270,830. It was still a good pay day, but …
The official explanation sounded logical. The rule had been posted in the men’s locker room warning players about squirrelly bunkers and potential dangers. Sure, Johnson admitted afterwards he should’ve, could’ve, asked for a ruling before he grounded his club. Sure he should’ve, could’ve, read the rule posted in the locker room more carefully. But he didn’t.
His ball had landed in the middle of the crowd. Not unusual for a pro event when spectator stands crowd the course lines. Typically players get a free drop when this happens. Land on a cart path and you also get a free drop.
In this case, the people moved aside allowing Johnson to see his ball lying on a gnarly piece of land on the side of a hill. The ground, well trampled as it was behind the ropes, looked like many of the other rough, links-like places on this spectacular course.
But it resembled a bunker about as much as Mick Jagger looks like Nick Jonas. No lip, tangled grasses, scruffy stuff. As a best guess, it might be recognized as a waste bunker. Typical Pete Dye.
If spectators are allowed to stand in and around the “bunkers” - hey they could be sitting in it eating a hot dog and a soda while they watched the action - how can this area be defined as a “bunker?”
Here’s an idea: PGA events could be required to be played only on courses with well defined boundaries. The problem? These tracks could arguably be a snore, the golf action way too predictable. Not good.
Or what about this? When playing an exciting course like Whistling Straits, a referee could be assigned to each group. The referee would be charged with telling players what is and what is not a bunker.
“Yep. That’s a bunker. Nope. It’s just plain old bad ground.”
Or the committee could put little signs all over the course at all the questionable spots: “Beware. This is indeed a bunker. Really.” The problem? The course could end up looking like the venue for a political rally.
When PGA events are held at courses like Whistling Straits where winds, uneven ground conditions, scary bunkers, massive carries and deep gorges create surprises right up to the last shot, anything can happen. The leaderboard can change dramatically from one hole to the next. It’s exciting It’s good for the game.
This tournament was one zany ride and Martin Kaymer hung on to his seat. A gracious winner, he deserves congratulations.
The loser? Could be the set of rules which in the case of Whistling Straits is rather like hammering a square peg into a round hole.
What if Johnson had made that last putt? Can you imagine the resulting hub bub. Come on. Where’s the logic. We need a modicum of common sense here.
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It was just one of those things: an understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.
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