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A fix to the rule that led to the Dustin Johnson/U.S. Open debacle

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I read my colleague Ben Alberstadt’s very insightful article on the Dustin Johnson debacle and thought I’d take a minute to offer what may be “practical” (if that word can even exist within the rules) solution to the problem. Of course it won’t, but…

We have a constitution in our country that has been amended 27 times, and with good reason; times change, events change and the existing laws need to be reconsidered. The very same thing happens every four years at the USGA and R&A. The two governing bodies meet to reconsider the rules. And one of the rules that needs to be amended, if not in fact changed, is rule 18:2.

I am basing my recommendation on this; when the rule was written, it is highly doubtful that green speeds were anywhere near 14 on the Stimpmeter. Oakmont Country Club has always been the show pony in our game with regard to green speed. I have played the golf course a number of times, and it is truly a wonderful test of golf (with or without the absurd green speeds). But when greens get to that speed, it does not take a player soling his/her club or even standing near it to cause the ball to move. The golf ball can move with a mere zephyr of air. On greens that speed, it is almost NEVER at rest.

The rule was written when there was more grass on the greens: when the game — even at the highest level — was played on greens at 10.5-11 on the Stimp. Watch any past Open at Oakmont, even Cabrera’s win in 2007, and you will not see a speed of 14, or anything like it.

So I’m suggesting this: If the club does not contact the golf ball, there should be no penalty. Practice swings, soling the putter, proximity, time elapsed — none of it matters if the player does not actually hit the ball with the putter. That is the only time we can actually blame the player, isn’t it? To boot, DJ’s golf ball moved backward. Who in their right mind wants a longer putt?

One more note: I think what angered most in the golf world was the fact that viewers saw the two USGA officials posturing, instead of acting in the best interest of the game. On that point I have to agree, but I would not condemn what they, as a governing body, do. MOST of what they do is in the best interest of the game. And remember, ours is a game with perhaps more gray area than any other. Try as one might to make the rules black and white, they never will be.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. pepperwhiteknight

    Jun 26, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    It is infuriating how the USGA penalized DJ but I never heard them specifically talk about what rules and how the rule works during the US Open broadcast on Sunday. That ******* from the USGA came on air after hole 12 and gave his opinion and didn’t quote a single rule. It was like FOX was scared to go against the USGA and quote the rule book. And FOX sure talked about it plenty on the back nine on Sunday, BLAH BLAH BLAH he could be penalized over and over every five minutes, but NO LOGICAL EXPLANATION ACCORDING TO THE ACTUAL RULE BOOK. As pointed out by other GOLFWRXers RULES 18-2, 1-2, and 34-2 seem to be applicable in a logical ruling.

  2. DaCrusher

    Jun 25, 2016 at 10:50 am

    As I have said, the most upsetting issue is the USGA questioned the integrity of the player in a game of the highest integrity. They deny it but their subsequent overruling of their own on course official and penalty stroke applied to score afterwards proves otherwise.

    • Eye of the Smizzle

      Jun 26, 2016 at 10:44 am

      People with addiction issues usually get stereotyped as not trust worthy. Bet that played a role.

      • DaCrusher

        Jun 28, 2016 at 12:15 am

        Really? And your statement is based on fact or hearsay?

  3. Jimmy D

    Jun 25, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Some excellent points and suggestions, but one thing that is not addressed (pun intended) is that rule 18-2 was changed for this year. Rule 18-2b (Ball Moving After Address) was withdrawn, and “This means that when a ball moves after a player has addressed it, the penalty under Rule 18-2 will be based purely on whether the player caused the ball to move.” The key point that the USGA refuses to acknowledge is that DJ did NOT address the ball (USGA defines addressing the ball as grounding the club immediately behind or in front of the ball), and there is nothing in the video indicating that DJ caused the ball to move.
    The second section from their Decisions 18-2/0.5 provides an example which is almost identical to DJ’s situation and should have been cited as the reference. “A player’s ball lies on an upslope in a closely-mown area. He makes a practice swing, but does so some distance from the ball as he is concerned that the ball may move. He carefully takes his stance but does not ground his club. Prior to making his backswing for the stroke, the ball moves. As the ball did not move while the player made the practice swing or took this stance, it is more likely than not that other factors (i.e., the ball’s lie on an upslope) caused the ball to move. (New)” If the ball’s lie on an upslope can cause the ball to move on the fairway or fringe, then it can definitely be the cause on a green reading 14+.

    • dennis clark

      Jun 25, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      Yes very true…I couldn’t find anything in the decisions books about the ‘time frame” issue the official referred to, or the “proximate” position of the player??

  4. BIG STU

    Jun 25, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Good write up and I totally agree. the USGA came away from this with egg on their faces. They actually violated their own rules as pointed out by others when the basically overruled the Walking Official. And the way they handled the whole deal was beyond comprehension. I had done away with my USGA membership a couple of years back and will not renew it. Screw them!! Betterment of the game my big butt!!! they have done more harm to the game the last few years than helped.

  5. Tom Duckworth

    Jun 24, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Once he consulted with the official that should have been the end of it. He deemed that DJ didn’t cause the ball to move and they should have respected that. It’s also very true that greens now are nothing like they were when the rule was written. With greens so slick just the vibration from your foot could cause the ball to move. It sounds to me like someone with too big of an ego had to stick their nose in. The shame is that on one of golfs biggest stages they had to pull a stunt like this and make golf look so stupid.

  6. Mel

    Jun 24, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    I don’t completely understand all the “intent” language. In other sports you get called for holding, clipping, interference, traveling, shot clock, etc. Do you think people have “intent” to break those rules? We’ve come a long way from Bobby Jones.

  7. M Bryan

    Jun 24, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    I would say if you get a ruling from the official then that ruling should stand, period. No way to fix this later as the change could have affected strategy etc.

  8. Scooter McGavin

    Jun 24, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    “If the club does not contact the golf ball, there should be no penalty.” So does this apply off the green as well? If a player lands in some tall rough on a fluffy lie right next to the fairway, could they brush their club through the grass (not touching the ball) in order for it to fall into the fairway?

  9. larrybud

    Jun 24, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    So no rules should EVER be changed? Pretty much goes against everything the USGA has ever done then.

  10. Dennis Clark

    Jun 24, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Literalists often disregard context. Context: A player’s (who’s leading the final round of the US Open) golf ball moved. BACKWARD! Literal rules application says “if the player is deemed to have move the ball” etc…But contextually we have to consider common sense. Did he want a longer putt? Was he trying to influence the golf ball in his favor with ALL of Golfdom watching? I don’t think anyone would say yes no matter how the rules read. This is where we often differ and debate, (which BTW I think is healthy), and why our game is so hard to police. But to clarify the point of the article, I’m simply saying that green speeds have gotten to the point where we need to reconsider the rule AS IT IS. We can’t lose sight of the forest for the trees here; it’s not healthy for the game. Which is why the PLAYER’S twitterverse was irate.

    • Nick

      Jun 24, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      Very good points. The biggest item lost in all of this stuff is the “common sense” part. DJ got burned on a technicality of the rules on the putting green. He also got a huge advantage due to a technicality by being able to pull his ball out of the rough on his free drop. In both instances the rules were technically applied and enforced correctly but both seemed to violate the “common sense” test in that he penalized for not really doing anything and then got to pull his ball out of the cabbage based on another technicality. Both instances I don’t think sat well with a lot of people even though the rules were followed.

      • Dennis Clark

        Jun 24, 2016 at 1:38 pm

        True…I also don’t think he was trying to create a better lie in the bunker at Whistling Straits either…Nor was Craig Stadler trying to create a better stance in San Diego and on and on…

  11. Blue

    Jun 24, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Change the rule… After the ball has been marked and replaced on the putting surface, if the ball moves for any reason other direct contact with the player or their equipment the ball should be replaced -no penalty.

  12. larrybud

    Jun 24, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I actually think Moises example has to be considered and noted for in the rule change:

    When on the green, if a ball moves without any direct contact by the player, or by any purposeful intent to cause the ball to move by the player, the ball shall be played from where it comes to rest, with no penalty assessed.

    Now granted, intent still needs to be applied, but that’s a much higher level of requirement and IMO, a much easier thing to “prove” for the penalty to be assessed. After all, a player can “check his swing” while on the tee, and intent is completely the dependent factor on whether the stroke counts or not.

  13. TN

    Jun 24, 2016 at 11:16 am

    In my old-school mentality, I don’t mind any rule to make it hard to play the game (e.g. grounding club in bunker or hazard area, etc.). However, any rule that is unfairly penalizing the player is unnecessarily complicating the game. At the higher level such as the Open and given 14 green condition, this rule just plain unfair.

  14. RH

    Jun 24, 2016 at 9:44 am

    OK there Mike Davis. That old school mentality is what is seriously hurting the game.

    • DaCrusher

      Jun 28, 2016 at 12:22 am

      You blew his cover. “M Smizzie” is actually Mike Davis GolfWRX handle.

  15. Dennis clark

    Jun 24, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Point is all rules have to be reconsidered from time to time. Not sure my suggestion is right but I’m betting they take a look at this in 2020

    • Bert

      Jun 24, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      Dennis – good common sense evaluation. My belief is they are already looking at 18-2 and 34-2.

  16. dennis clark

    Jun 24, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Do you like to have a beer after your round? It was illegal once in this country…sure glad we didn’t respect that rule.

  17. Moises

    Jun 24, 2016 at 8:35 am

    You probably know about the golf swing but, regarding rules, you have no idea what you are talking about. So, if my ball rests next to a slope that would leave it nearer to the hole, Does it mean I can tap the green slightly with my putter (not touching the ball, of course) in the hope it moves down the slope so I can have a shorter putt? You must be kidding. DJ said he didn’t ground his club next to the ball….but the video shows he clearly did. Sorry but he was correctly penalised 😉

    • JS

      Jun 24, 2016 at 8:49 am

      Your example is ridiculous, and would be an obvious example of cheating for advantage. It’s time to relax any accidental movement of a golf ball on greens like Oakmont’s. DJ was clearly not trying to cause his ball to move one bit. End of story.

      • Rich

        Jun 24, 2016 at 9:53 am

        I agree that his example is ridiculous and I also thought the ruling from the USGA was stupid. However, nothing in the rule speaks of intent. Whether he intended to move it or not is irrelevant as far as the rule is concerned.

    • fred

      Jun 24, 2016 at 10:49 am

      You must have watched a different video from everyone else on the planet.

    • tlmck

      Jun 24, 2016 at 11:05 am

      In penalizing DJ after the round, the USGA violated rule 34.2. The official walking with the group had already made his ruling so anything that comes after is null and void.

    • Jay

      Jun 24, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Well Mossie, seems you dont know much about the rules either. What you just described is a breach of 1-2, which in the example you give would most likely lead to DQ

    • Philip

      Jun 24, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Are you sure he said he did not ground his club next to the ball, or that he did not address the ball. He differently grounded his club beside the ball, but he may have been referring to whether he grounded his club behind the ball.

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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