Common sense not in golf's rulebook

A PGA of America rules official talks with Dustin Johnson (left) on the 18th green.
GolfWeek James Achenbach
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I am ashamed and embarrassed to be a golfer.

The Dustin Johnson incident at the PGA Championship has made me heartsick (for DJ) and angry (with the rules-makers and with golf course designer Pete Dye).

The sport I love is losing its mind, not to mention its credibility in the public eye. Try explaining to your nongolfer friends why an innocent player such as Johnson can be penalized for grounding his club in a hardscrabble area where thousands of spectators had been walking around. When Johnson hit his second shot on the 72nd hole, dozens of fans were still standing in this so-called bunker.

If this was a bunker, my front yard is the White House Rose Garden.

Plain and simple, there should be no such thing as a bunker or a hazard in an area where fans and vehicles have trampled the ground and left it looking like a cow pasture or goat playground.

This is absurd, yet it was stated on the local rules sheet that such areas were to be regarded as legitimate bunkers.

Sadly, I am losing my respect for the rules-makers and the individuals who enforce them. These people seem to have lost sight of a simple observation: Golf should be governed first and foremost by common sense.

The rules have become impossible to know and understand. They are as inscrutable as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The only people who actually know the rules are easy to recognize – they walk around with long-sleeve white shirts and ties, and they have rules books and decisions books tucked in all their pockets.

I doubt these officials spend as much time playing the game as they do studying the ever-enlarging legislation surrounding the rules.


Check out photos of the action from majestic Whistling Straits in our PGA Championship gallery.

In professional golf, my beef is that too often the rules don’t take into account the reality of playing golf in front of tens of thousands of spectators. The scene on that 72nd hole was mayhem.

Rules officials should have taken charge and cleared the area. Though it is against the unofficial code of officiating, I wish someone could have cautioned Johnson in a situation such as this.

Golf has always proudly spoken its mantra: Each golfer is responsible for knowing the rules and enforcing them. That’s fine under ordinary circumstances, but this was far from ordinary. Those who ran the PGA Championship failed to maintain order. They allowed the situation to get out of hand.

Picture this: Johnson’s drive on the final hole came to rest in a small sandy area overgrown with patches of grass and weeds. It had no clearly defined lip. It had no boundary identifying it as a bunker.

By the time Johnson reached his ball, the area was filled with spectators. They surrounded him, so much so he had to ask them to hold steady because they were casting shadows over his ball.

This is a black eye for golf. Today, I hang my head. Golf is so proud – smug, if you ask me – for its reliance on the rules. This could go a long way toward reinforcing the public perception that golf is a game for the elite, with a collection of rules as thick as an encyclopedia.

“They should tear up the rules and start over,” said short game instructor and author Dave Pelz. “It is way too complicated.”

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Way too unfair, sometimes.

Dye, the golf course architect, should be another target of our scrutiny. Perhaps we should question golf course owner Herb Kohler.

I know, I know, this is heresy. Nobody questions Dye and Kohler, two of the good guys in golf.

Regardless, Whistling Straits appears to have been built as much for its dramatic visual effect as for its golfing challenge. It has nearly 1,000 bunkers or sand piles. This creates a distinctive cosmetic look, which is fine, but it presents a confusing patchwork of golfers and spectators, which is not fine for tournament play.

Rules-makers may think it is fine fans walk through bunkers during the course of a major championship, but I think it is ridiculous, no matter how far removed the bunkers seem to be.

It would not surprise me at all if other players during the PGA Championship ignorantly grounded their clubs when it was not allowed. Granted, this is wild speculation on my part.

The outcome, though, was not speculation. It really happened. The PGA Championship was decided not by a golf shot but by a rules sheet.

This is not the game I love.

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