PGA shares in blame for Dustin Johnson’s penalty

KOHLER, WI - AUGUST 15: Dustin Johnson watches his second shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the 92nd PGA Championship on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits on August 15, 2010 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The PGA likes to boast that the course at Whistling Straits has over 1,000 unique bunkers.

Of course, only 300 of them look like actual bunkers.

That’s because spectators usually trample on and mat down the other 700-plus sand traps. If a golfer were to hit their ball in one of these bunkers, he may have a hard time determining whether or not he was standing in a trap or the grounds at Woodstock.

And actually, Dustin Johnson did hit his ball into one of these traps yesterday at the 2010 PGA Championship and it cost him the opportunity to win a Major.

On the 72nd hole, Johnson was assessed a 2-stroke penalty for grounding his club in one of the traps that had been stepped on, walked on and who-knows-what-else-on throughout the course of the day. He wound up finishing tied for 5th as a result of the ruling, instead of playing in a three-way playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson. (Kaymer eventually won the event.)

Now, it’s Johnson’s fault for hitting his ball into the trap. Generally speaking, you control your own destiny in golf. If you muck up your swing and wind up putting one out of bounds, in the rough or in the ocean, that’s on you. But why does the PGA have rule guides walking around with players if they’re not going to guide the players? In other words, why didn’t an official remind Johnson that he was in a bunker?

In fairness to the PGA, they post notices in the player’s locker rooms instructing them about the bunkers and anything else they should be aware of on the course. But when someone like Johnson is in the heat of battle and a Major is on the line, he’s probably not going to remember something that he read while brushing his teeth in the morning (and he didn’t).

Of course, one could argue that if the players know the traps are an issue at Whistling Straits, they can just assume that everything is in play and be conscious at all times of where they’re standing. But some of the bunkers on that course have grass growing through them, so it would be hard for a player like Johnson to determine whether or not he was standing in the rough or in a trap.

That’s why an official should have said something. The PGA isn’t fully to blame for the outcome on Sunday because Johnson has to take responsibility too. But it’s amazing to think that a simple, “Hey Dustin, don’t forget that’s a bunker” could have led to Johnson winning his first Major of his career.

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