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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 JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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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