More in a mo on Dustin Johnson’s hugely deserved, impressive victory in the US Open at Oakmont on Sunday but first a few words about the Union of Stupid Golf Amateurs…sorry, that should read (or not?) the United States Golf Association.
On the 5th green in the final round, Johnson had a three-foot putt for par. As he was about to address the ball (i.e. he had not yet grounded his putter, it seemed to everyone), it moved. He called over a rules official who accepted what Johnson had said. His playing partner, Lee Westwood, agreed he had not grounded his club, so no penalty. All sorted – play on, gentlemen, nothing to see here.
When Johnson reached the 12th tee – six holes later – he was told that on looking at the video for the millionth time, the USGA decided he’d better have a look at it himself when he’d finished. (This to make sure that he didn’t sign for a lower score on that hole than he had taken because that would have meant his disqualification.) In other words, they didn’t take his word for it – nor the opinion of most people who’d seen the video. (The USGA later said “we accept that not everyone will agree that Dustin caused his ball to move”…no shit, Sherlock!)
Players watching this unfold went mental. “This is ridiculous,” tweeted Rory McIlroy. “No penalty whatsoever for DJ. Let the guy play without this crap in his head.” Similar sentiments were expressed by, among others, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell, Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald. When Johnson won, McIlroy posted “Take that @usga.” That from their 2011 champion. The USGA then applied the penalty to reduce Johnson’s four-shot win to three. Lord knows what they would have done, what would have happened, if he’d won by one.
The USGA made a mockery of the game. Their attitude and actions bring it into disrepute; or at least ridicule. Who wants to watch a sport when you don’t know what’s happening, or who might be leading? Would you be watching Euro 2016 if your team was winning 1-0 but later it might be decided that it’s actually 0-0. In the circumstances they should have either penalised Johnson – which they did anyway – or taken his word for it. Instead, confusion reigned because they were too cowardly to do the right thing.
At Chambers Bay last year they held the US Open on a course which really didn’t have any greens. Now they held it on one with greens they couldn’t control. (A harbinger to the Johnson incident was provided in round two when Shane Lowry – who would lead by four shots with a round to play – had called a penalty on himself when his ball moved on the 16th green. Unlike at St Andrews last year this was nothing to do with high winds and all to do with the stupidity of the set-up.) The stumbebums at Far Hills need to take a look at themselves. To quote McIlroy again: “Amateur hour from @USGA.”
Back to the golf. Phil Mickelson, six times runner-up in this championship and seeking the only major absent from his resumé, was given Thursday, his 46th birthday, off because of storms so extreme that one might have contemplated if there was a phone app for the plague of locusts that would surely come next. Appropriately among the greenstaff was a guy called Noah. Thursday wasn’t a total washout but it was just about the next worst thing to it. The USGA officials were probably praying in the Church Pews (they’re the storied bunkers that separate the 3rd and 4th fairways) and in fact the weather for the rest of the week was pretty much ideal.
The first-round leader was Andrew Landry, an unheralded Texan, who opened with a four-under-par 66 and he then hung around all week, being in the final pairing with Lowry on Sunday. Before that, at some point on early Saturday afternoon, Mickelson would miss the cut, as did McIlroy (five over for the last nine holes of his second round, including a four-putt from 12 feet and despite a chip-in) and Justin Rose, the 2013 champion.
Cutting through to the outcome on Sunday, Johnson fired a closing 68/69 (take your pick), finishing with a magnificent towering approach shot into the final hole to set up a birdie three. Lowry tied for second with Jim Furyk and Scott Piercy, three shots (four if you like) behind Johnson, who has a record of Sunday major disappointments. Both the 2010 US Open and USPGA Championship, where he was the victim of a questionable rules situation, might have been his. Similarly the 2011 Open Championship. At the US Open last year, he had three-putted the last from 12 feet when a one-putt would have won it for him. Johnson has paid his dues alright and this time it was Dustin’s time.
As for the USGA, perhaps they are clandestinely working to give golf’s ‘fifth major’, the Players Championship, an upgrade?
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen