Controversy doesn’t come close to describing what transpired during and after the final round of the 116th US Open at Oakmont. Try cluster fuck, defined by Google as “a disastrously mishandled situation or undertaking.” If the USGA exists “for the good of the game,” I’m afraid it did the exact opposite during one of the best tournaments of the year.
Before I go any further, I want to congratulate Dustin Johnson on his first major championship. I also want to applaud everyone who competed or even tried to qualify for the most democratic championship in golf. The USGA staged this event to allow anyone who’s willing and able a chance to take the hardest exam in golf. No tour card? No problem! Got game? You’re in! Once upon a time, I tried…and miserably failed to qualify for the Women’s US Open. It was an overdose of humility for me but I’ll never forget the sensational high of being mixed among amazingly talented female professionals and amateurs, all trying to make the cut. This is the stuff that makes the game of golf great.
What happened on Sunday made golf stupid. On the 5th green, DJ noticed his ball move prior to grounding his putter. He notified his playing partner, Lee Westwood, and the nearest rules official. He claimed that he hadn’t addressed the ball and that he didn’t cause the ball to move – either scenarios would have resulted in a one-stroke penalty. The grounds official ruled it playable where the ball came to rest without penalty. Lee Westwood agreed. Play continued. Meanwhile, USGA rules official marinated on the “weighted evidence” and decided to inform DJ on the 12th hole that they’re considering the penalty and that they’ll decide after he finishes. The collective reaction from the universe of people-who-give-a-damn can pretty much be summed up with: WTF?! The erroneous decision was finally made to assess the penalty after DJ completed his round with enough cushion to suffer the ridiculous blow.
More has been written about this awkward performance by the USGA than about any other player in the field, including the new champion. The whole handling of the situation was so bad that the USGA felt compelled to issue a formal statement on their website apologizing for the distraction they caused…never mind their poor decision. In addition, their Executive Director, Mike Davis, asked for a mulligan during a televised phone interview. A mulligan!!! I hate to break it to ya, but nowhere in the 34 rules of golf – that you guys ironically penned – are you allowed a do-over without recourse. While I’m at it, let me restate your own mission:
“The USGA promotes and conserves the true spirit of the game of golf as embodied in its ancient and honorable traditions. It acts in the best interests of the game for the continued enjoyment of those who love and play it.”
Being honorable is a huge part of this game and unlike any other sport, players are trusted to call their own penalties. By choosing to act upon your interpretation of evidence and dismissing the mutual call made by your appointed official, the player, and the playing partner, you’ve done a major disservice to the game and have disappointed those who love it. Let’s also not forget about the plight to grow the game of golf.