Was it really a bunker? If so, why were fans allowed to tromp all over it? Should Dustin Johnson have known it was a bunker, and was it the right call to penalize him and knock him out of the PGA Championship playoff?
Pete Dye, who designed Whistling Straits — and the bunker that became the final resting place of Johnson’s dream of winning the PGA — addressed those questions for FOXSports.com.
In order, yes, it was a bunker; no, it would have been impossible to keep fans out of all the bunkers located outside the ropes; Johnson should have known the rule, and while his fate was regrettable, the ruling was proper.
"It was just a really unfortunate thing to have happen," Dye, 84, said Monday in a phone interview from his home in Indiana.
Johnson appeared to have qualified for a playoff with eventual champion Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson by finishing at 11 under par for 72 holes. But he grounded his club in sand before hitting his second shot to the 72nd hole, and had to accept a two-stroke penalty when officials informed him the area in which his tee shot landed was a bunker.
"I knew he was in a bunker, but I didn’t know he had grounded his club," said Dye, who was standing behind the 18th green watching Johnson line up his second shot on the 72nd hole.
"The guy and the caddie just lost it," Dye said. "How he didn’t figure out it was a bunker, I don’t know."
Why wasn’t the bunker roped off? "I dug a lot of bunkers up there, that’s for sure," said Dye, who dotted the course with more than 1,000 bunkers. "The bunkers go on forever out there. On that golf course, if you roped it out (so all the bunkers were behind ropes), there wouldn’t be room for more than two people in the gallery."
Before the tournament began, the PGA of America gave players notices that "all areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers" and noted that many bunkers outside the ropes "will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks."
"I guess maybe I should have looked at the rules sheet a little harder," Johnson said.
Johnson could have hit a more accurate tee shot, too, Dye said. "In most places he would have been out of bounds."
Dye said there’s no question the area is a designed bunker, not just a patch of sand exposed by heavy spectator traffic. "There’s a lip right there on the front right," he said.
Whistling Straits, Dye said, is "a throwback" to the type of golf course still common in the British Isles but rarely seen anymore in the U.S. — one with a lot of unmaintained areas, including unraked bunkers.
"At Pebble Beach they used to not rake the bunkers," he said. "This is nothing new."
Dye said the Masters is largely responsible for the perception that all bunkers must be pristine.
"The idea of maintaining bunkers absolutely perfect came from Augusta," he said.