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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

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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Courses

The Jamaica Golf Experience

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I love Jamaica. I have been to the island for several trips with my family and the feeling I get every time I think about a next visit is always exciting. On past trips, I have made Jamaican friends that I will remember for the rest of my life. The people there are so happy and good. One Love. The “no problem ‘mon'” culture just becomes a part of you when you’re there, creating a special atmosphere that lets you escape it all. I keep Red Stripe beer in my fridge at home in Fort Worth, Texas, all year — a reminder of the island I love with every sip. So when I received an invitation to play in The Jamaica Pro-Am, I was quick to accept.

The Jamaica Pro-Am (aka Annie’s Revenge — more on that later) is an annual tournament held each year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Four-man teams constructed of three amateurs and one PGA Professional, the tournament is typically played on three of Jamaica’s finest golf courses — Half Moon, Cinnamon Hill, and White Witch. I attended this year’s tournament as a playing observer, confined to the “media team” and partaking in the festivities. Ya’mon.

The tournament field gets to stay at the beautiful Iberostar Grand Rose Hotel, conveniently located near all three courses and more importantly, right on the beach. The hotel is indeed grand and all-inclusive, providing guests with a wristband that gets you whatever you’d like to eat or drink from any of the onsite bars and restaurants — no questions asked. Less than 30 minutes from the airport, if Montego Bay is your desired city for your next Jamaican vacation, I’d imagine this hotel is tough to beat.

The first night of the tournament is the welcome dinner and reception on the beach. A full Jamaican buffet complete with jerk chicken and pork, beef patties, fried plantains, rice and peas, and cabbage. A true taste of the Caribbean, accompanied of course with whatever rum drink your heart desires. Appleton is the island favorite, and it mixes well with pretty much everything when you’re toes are in the sand. There was a live reggae band playing the Bob Marley songs everyone knows.

While the festivities were for the tournament participants, there was still plenty of activity and vibe for the other hotel guests. This is Jamaica. There was music and fun all around the hotel every moment of this trip. No worries, everything is irie. I have a real love for the island. The people are kind, the food is fantastic, and the waters are the finest in the world.

Day One: Half Moon Golf Club 

Quite understandably, Jamaica has been hit hard by COVID-19, with tourism taking a substantial dip in the past year and a half. The golf has seen a dip in numbers as a result, but the courses are in gorgeous shape with foot and cart traffic just now picking back up.

Half Moon was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and it opened in 1962. The course rests between the Blue Mountains and the sea, playing a mostly flat 7,120 yards from the back tees. Half Moon does offer several tee box options and could be played as short as 5,032 yards, making it a pleasant resort course, should that be your speed.

The course is beautiful and very well maintained. The greens were a bit shaggy, but luscious, playing at a slower pace than I am used to. I am not sure if that is by design or a side effect of the pandemic, as I do know the Jamaican golf courses have been short-staffed and without the usual supplies this past season. That appears to be a thing of the past, however, as the course looks to have turned a corner.

Most fairways are lined by palm trees, adding something to avoid off the tee, but there is enough space between each trunk to give you a full swing if you do miss left or right. The coconuts that drop, luckily, are loose impediments.

Half Moon is a resort course through and through. There are elements of character and excitement, but it mostly just provides a beautiful and benign setting for fun island golf. The fairways are dressed with multiple well-placed bunkers which provide the only designed protection against low scores. The driver could be used on virtually every non-par 3, but the course is better suited to be thought around and played to avoid the sand.

Built on a retired sugar cane estate, the other real hazard (water doesn’t come into play much at all) is the coastal winds that pick up mid-morning each day. With little besides the coconut trees to protect your ball from gusts, the wind becomes a real challenge on this bow-tie routed design. Holes into the wind were a beast, and when we finally turned with the wind at our back, it was time for a Red Stripe and a sigh of relief.

Those winds are a big reason why this tournament is called “Annie’s Revenge.” Named after Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall, the namesake is one of Jamaica’s most famous local legends. Rose Hall’s Great House, just down the road towards Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, was home to Palmer, a Haitian-born white woman who grew up studying voodoo and witchcraft. Thus the nickname, the White Witch. She moved to Jamaica when she married John Palmer, the owner of Rose Hall, and unfortunately, her practice of dark magic proved too powerful for those around her. Legend tells she murdered her husband (and two more after that) along with many of her slaves. She herself was eventually killed, but to this day, the locals claim to have witnessed Palmer’s ghost riding her horse around the Jamaican plantations.

The strong coastal winds are Annie’s Revenge on any golfer trying to enjoy the land she once owned. They got the best of me a time or two.

Days Two and Three: Cinnamon Hill 

Both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch Golf Course are members of the Rose Hall family. Typically, in the “Annie’s Revenge” tournament format, the courses are played once each in the three-day event. However, White Witch is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its owners made the financial decision to proceed through these tough times with only one course due to the limited play and the costs of upkeep. While disappointed to not play White Witch, playing Cinnamon Hill twice instead more than satisfied my appetite for Jamaican golf. This is my favorite course on the island.

Cinnamon Hill was designed by Rick Baril and opened in 1969. It was later renovated and redesigned by Robert von Hagge. The greens here were much quicker than those at Half Moon, which I certainly appreciated. The two nines of Cinnamon Hill play in complementing contrast to one another, with the front providing low coastal play while the back nine rises into the tropical Blue Mountains.

Tipping out at 6,828 yards, the front nine marches and builds towards the ocean, with two phenomenal holes hugging the coastline. This is unusual for Jamaica, as most of the shore is saved for sandy beaches and rum-flavored sips under thatch umbrellas.

I played Cinnamon Hill with my cart partner, Jason Deegan of GolfPass.com. Our hosts for our rounds at Rose Hall were Keith Stein, the Director of Golf Course Operations for both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch, and Donnie Dawson, the Deputy Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Keith is a very good golfer with a smooth swing. He is originally from Toronto but has lived in Jamaica for 30 years. Donnie is a world-class storyteller who grew up in Kingston and has been playing these courses his entire life. It was a real treat to be able to play the course with both fine gentlemen, see how they play each hole, and hear their tales. The best story came on hole four, a 170-yard par 3 over marshy ponds.

Donnie Dawson and one of his stories

As we approached the fourth tee box, Donnie pointed out a concrete wall just behind the markers and informed us that a cemetery lay just beyond. Peering over, we could see the gravestones in this centuries-old burial plot for the family of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The grass is grown tall because the golf course staff, local Jamaicans, refuse to go inside.

Donnie told us 20 or so years ago, he was playing this course with a caddie named “Teeth,” a moniker he was given based on the looper’s colored and decorated top front teeth. As they approached the fourth tee box, a man was sitting on the concrete wall bordering the cemetery. He tossed Donnie a ball and said “hit this one, mon.” Donnie complied and the three men watched the shot bounce twice and roll directly into the cup. A hole-in-one with accompanied celebration. When they reached the green, Donnie and Teeth looked into the cup to retrieve the ball, and, to their surprise, it had vanished. Disappeared from the hole. They looked to the tee box and the kind stranger on the wall was gone as well. Perhaps a ghost from the ancient graves. Donnie said Teeth, a believer in local legend, took off running and didn’t stop for three miles.

Hole Four Green, site of the vanishing ball

Holes five and six provide tremendous views right along the quietly crashing waves. The par-3 sixth hole, arguably the prettiest hole on the island, is a 178-yard carry over the Caribbean with bailout room to the left. Just a gorgeous hole that I would have been happy to play all day. Cinnamon Hill does not waste their par 3s.

Hole five fairway

Keith Stein, yours truly and Jason Deegan

Par three sixth hole

The course is also home to an ancient aqueduct that winds through both the front and back nine. The now-ruins provide an interesting backdrop to island golf, whereas they used to be a working part of the sugar cane plantation and used to grind and transport one of Jamaica’s top export products for commerce.

The back nine brings you up the mountains, with the 17th tee box sitting nearly 400 feet above sea level. What that provides, obviously, is wonderful views of the ocean through and over jungle leaves, along with challenging golf shots. On the fairway of the 14th hole sits one of the few homes on course, but one has some historical value: The Cinnamon Hill Great House was the second home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash for 30 years.

Cinnamon Hill Great House

The 15th hole is another tremendous par 3 measuring 220 yards from the back but playing much shorter straight down the hill to a large green nestled beneath a waterfall. The waterfall, in case it looks familiar, was the backdrop of a famous scene in “Live and Let Die” — one of the best James Bond films ever made. Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond series, lived and wrote many of the books here on the island at Golden Eye.

Cinnamon Hill takes the driver out of your hand on many holes, forcing you to find the right club on every tee shot. You need to be prepared to hit mid-irons off some par fours as angles are often more important than distance. And with the undulating back nine, distances are sometimes deceiving. Cheers to my caddie for keeping the right club in my hand all trip.

Back to the hotel for the final ceremony and last sleep on the island. The Jamaica Pro-Am is open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee, but if you come to Jamaica for just a family vacation, don’t forget about the golf. Most travelers to Jamaica come for the beaches and the island lifestyle, and they aren’t wrong to do so. But next time you visit, I suggest you bring your clubs, mon.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Reviewing New Bettinardi BB and Inovai putters!

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Bettinardi has new and updated putters for their BB and Inovai putter lines. I have been rolling a ton of putts (indoors, unfortunately) with both the BB-8W and the Inovai Rev 8.0 and they are really solid (read our launch piece here).

BB series is now made from stainless steel and has a new face milling that offers much better feel. The new Inovai 8.0 has a great, toned-down shape with the new Roll Control face for reducing hopping and skidding and producing forward roll.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole Episode 174: The odd couple

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Host Michael Williams gives his take on the “The Match” between Bryson and Brooks, and what the real motivation for the alleged “feud” really is. Also features Travelling Lady Golfer host Sarah Forrest on golf in England.

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