Where the USGA Got it Wrong
This past week was the US Open, one of my top 2 favorite tournaments to watch (up until after this week, I could never decide which one I liked more between The Masters). But the USGA finally pushed me over the edge to say, the powers at be decided to once again, in my opinion, lose sight of what their job is as the governing body of golf is.
If you haven't heard or seen it yet, in the final round of the US Open, Dustin Johnson had a putt on the 5th green at Oakmont Country Club. He was preparing to hit the putt when his ball started to roll (just slightly). He didn't address the ball, but he was getting ready to and it took 1/2 roll. Now in the rules of golf, Rule 18-2 basically says, a player will be assessed a 1 stroke penalty if they cause the ball to roll. In the real time situation, Johnson stopped, called over the walking rules official who both agreed he did not cause the ball to move, it moved on it's own (very possible on greens that have that much slope and run at 15). Because of this ruling, there was no penalty given at the time and the group played on. Later on in the round, the USGA on the 12th tee told DJ they would review the footage after the round for a possible penalty.
Because of this, nobody actually knew what DJ's score was at the time. That's like not knowing the score in Game 7 of the NBA Finals with a minute to go in the game. Everyone is guessing at what score they need to get to for the win. The way the situation was handled was very poor, and I think many people have already voiced that opinion.
What I have a problem with, and continue to have a problem with from golf's governing bodies is how out of touch they are with the masses that play this game they govern. The USGA is maybe the most visible golf organization in the world and they continually forget to consider this when taking action. The US Open is a one of the tournaments where even casual golf fans watch, and non golf fans as well. So for 1 week a year, these people that we want to come into the game of golf, get exposed to what golf is. Golf is supposed to be a gentlemen's game, where you enforce the rules amongst playing competitors, call penalties on yourself and you protect the field by making sure everyone is following the rules. In this situation, Johnson said he didn't think the ball moved, his playing partner agreed and the rules official in the group agreed. Then by watching the video, which in know way proves what caused the ball to move, the USGA decided to call them liars.
The golfers I work with that are new to the game typically come from other sports, and I have a group of friends who recently started taking the game seriously and playing a lot more. They are also from other sport backgrounds. When they go out to play, there is a constant struggle of trying to figure out rules, questioning drops, counting up everyone's strokes on every green to verify they are correct and arguing about it. If as the professional, I bring up the idea that the rules are there, but also there is an integrity part of the game we must honor, a situation like this past weekends ruling will be used as ammo against me. Usually the quote of "well that is how the USGA did it and we are going to play by the rules."
In there other sports these players come from, it is common place to try and "draw fouls" or work the system to gain an advantage because there is a third party officiating. But golf was always different and for those of us who have played for a long time, it was why golf was a special game. The words honesty, integrity and respect were used about those who played the game and words I taught to junior golfers all the time. The USGA basically said on Sunday that those don't matter.
Maybe one day, the USGA will start to understand that, 99.9% of the golfers they govern are not on a professional tour, or don't play at the national level or even at a competitive level. They are the people who play on weekend mornings and who struggle with pace of play issues, keeping their slice on the golf course and trying to squeeze a round in before their kids soccer game. If they would keep this in mind, instead of losing the spirit of the game that has made it great for so many years, less people would feel intimidated by all the rules, frustrated by slower pace of play and just have some more fun out on the golf course instead of trying to be the police.