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Sports Then and Now

Dustin Johnson Will Bounce Back… Again

Posted on August 15, 2010 by Dean Hybl

At the time of this shot, no one foresaw the controversy that would follow.

With every shot viewed by millions across the world, there is no place for professional golfers to hide when things go wrong during major golf championships. It is a lesson than Dustin Johnson learned for the first time at the U.S. Open in June and then painfully revisited during the 2010 PGA Championship.

For the first three rounds of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the 26-year-old from Columbia, South Carolina looked like the greatest player in the world. Having twice won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Johnson acted as if a victory in the Open was inevitable. He entered the final round six under par and with a three stroke lead.

However, in front of a worldwide audience, he imploded with an ugly 82 to finish tied for eighth place.

For many golfers, such a disappointing finish in a major championship could have been the catalyst to a free-fall.

However, that didn’t prove to be the case for Johnson. Just weeks later, he finished tied for 14th at the British Open.

Then, in the final major of the year, Johnson stayed in contention throughout the first three days and entered the final round playing in the final group.

Who Deserves the Most Blame For The Dustin Johnson Penalty?

  • The PGA Rules Officials who were there and didn't alert him it was a bunker (41%, 14 Votes)
  • Dustin Johnson (29%, 10 Votes)
  • The people responsible for crowd control (29%, 10 Votes)
  • No One, these things happen (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 34

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Though he struggled at times during the final round, he managed to stick around near the top and then made a late charge to seize the lead by a stroke with one hole left.

Needing just an easy par to win his first major, Johnson pushed his tee shot far to the right, nestling among the crowd in what appeared to be a seemingly innocuous area of dirt, sand and straw that had been trampled by crowds for four days.

After clearing a path through the gallery, Johnson hit his second shot just off the green and then pitched within 10 feet of the hole. Johnson, the television announcers and the millions watching on television all assumed that if he made the putt he would be the 2010 PGA Champion.

Johnson’s putt just curled away from the hole and as it turns out his problems were just beginning. After tapping in for everyone assumed was a final round 71 and a spot in a three-man playoff, Johnson was approached by a PGA rules official.

Turns out that the area where his ball landed on the 18th hole was technically a bunker. That in itself would be no big deal except that there is a difference in how golfers can prepare for shots in bunkers or on regular pieces of dirt. It is a two-shot penalty to grind your club when in a bunker.

Until being told by a rules official on the 18th green, Johnson had no idea his spot in the playoff was in jeopardy.

Not realizing that he was in a bunker and having not been told by any of the dozens of PGA rules officials at the tournament that he was in a bunker, Johnson approached the shot as if he were on a regular patch of dirt and clearly ground his club before making his second shot.

It wasn’t until after he had finished the hole that a PGA official came up to Johnson and informed him of the miscue.

Because golf is a sport where etiquette is held with the greatest esteem, even though it is very easy to blame the mistake somewhat or completely on the PGA officials and their lack of foresight to be paying attention to the possibility on the 72nd hole of a major, the only correct decision was for Johnson to accept the two shot penalty and therefore go from being in the playoff to finishing in fifth place.

In the aftermath of this very public event, you saw the great contrast in how things were handled by the parties involved.

PGA Tour representative Mark Wilson was quick to point to the rules and squarely put the responsibility on the player. He made a point to make sure it was known that the players had been told to play sand areas as bunkers, but never explained why none of the dozens of rules officials at the event was proactive enough to get with the group and remind Johnson and his caddy that this area was a bunker.

Given that it was the 72nd hole of a major championship, the area had been a gallery all week and that the area was generally flat and there was both sand and straw with the ball, it is easy to understand why it might have slipped Johnson’s mind that the area could be considered a bunker.

However, unlike Wilson, Johnson did show class in his television interview after the ruling. Though he clearly didn’t believe the area was really a bunker, he accepted the ruling and took full responsibility.

Though he had a chance at a major title snatched from him for the second time in two months, Johnson maintained his poise and showed complete class in dealing with the media.

In the face of such a public implosion, many athletes would have hidden from the media or waited for hours before addressing the situation.

Instead, Johnson was on CBS less than 10 minutes after the ruling and probably earned himself millions of new fans with his response.

After now living through two public beatdowns at major championships, it would come as no real surprise if Johnson faded away never to be heard from again.

However, there seems to be a spirit of resilience in this young man that makes you believe that he will recover from this experience and be stronger because of it. You can also bet that he will become the recipient of fame and notoriety that would not have occurred had he simply put the ball down the fairway and won the title with a par on the last hole.

Johnson will get a chance at some redemption later this fall as a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.  Then I would say that there is a good chance he will be hoisting a major championship trophy sometime in 2011.

Because, he has proven that while you can knock Dustin Johnson down, he will always bounce back.

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