If Dustin Johnson’s misfortune at the PGA Championship underscores anything, it’s the value of a good caddie.
I’m not familiar with Bobby Brown, who loops for Johnson. But I’m pretty certain the infraction that cost Johnson a spot in the playoff at Whistling Straits wouldn’t have tripped up Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker or Jim Furyk. Their caddies – Steve Williams, Jimmy Johnson and Mike “Fluff” Cowen, respectively – would have known the local rule about bunkers and called it to their man’s attention.
Johnson and Brown have no one to blame but themselves. Dustin may have been victimized by a peculiar local rule, but the PGA of America went to great pains to inform contestants of it.
The No. 1 item on the PGA Championship’s local rules sheet, which was posted in the locker room and distributed to players, advised that every sand pit on the course, even ragged sandy areas well outside the ropes, was to be played as a bunker, meaning you’re prohibited from grounding your club (touching the sand) before making contact with the ball. Even the scruffiest sandy areas were not to be played as waste bunkers (where grounding the club is permitted).
“The notice, the first item on the rules sheet, went on to say that during the conduct of the championship some areas outside the ropes might have many footprints, heel prints or tire tracks,” explained Mark Wilson, the PGA professional who is a co-chairman of championship rules committee, during the CBS telecast. “Nevertheless, those are irregularities of surface from which no relief will be permitted. Although some of these areas outside the ropes may appear to have changed in terms of what a Tour player might normally expect. . . I think Dustin in this position just didn’t recognize that fact.”
Johnson, 26, who ducked the media after his final-round meltdown in June at the U.S. Open, deserves credit for fielding reporters’ questions this time around. After composing himself and changing clothes, Johnson talked to David Feherty of CBS, then scrummed with newspaper and magazine writers in the locker room.
“Walking up there and seeing my shot, it never once crossed my mind that I was in a sand trap,” said Johnson. “It’s very unfortunate, but the only worse thing that could have happened is if I would have made that putt on the last hole (which, without the 2-shot penalty, would have given him the victory outright). . . I just thought (the ball) was on a piece of dirt where the crowd had trampled it down.”
Sure, it’s an odd rule, especially consider the tens of thousands of spectators who trampled hundreds of the far-flung bunkers that pockmark the Whistling Straits landscape. But Dustin Johnson is a professional golfer, and it’s his job to know the rules. Either he didn’t bother to read the rules sheet, or the warning about bunkers simply didn’t sink in.
Johnson is a bomb-and-gouge player, not a strategic thinker like Martin Kaymer, the 25-year-old German who beat Bubba Watson in the three-hole aggregate playoff that Johnson missed out on. That being the case, it’s incumbent on his caddie to make sure Johnson always knows his options, always grasps the situation, and always is aware of special circumstances.
Brown’s ineffectiveness at the PGA pretty much solves the puzzle of why he didn’t take control at Pebble Beach, either. A savvy caddie would have made Johnson slow down and more carefully assess the predicaments that ultimately derailed his U.S. Open bid.
Bottom line, golf was deprived of great theater at Whistling Straits – the silly long Johnson and Watson going head-to-head in the playoff with Europe’s rising star Kaymer – because of Johnson’s negligence and Brown’s lack of assertiveness.
GOLFWEEK MAGAZINE columnist James Achenbach has more sympathy for Johnson.
PLENTY OF COMMENTARY on the episode at geoffshackelford.com, as well