Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

USGA Regrets Causing Turmoil; Johnson Was Told of Possible Rules Infraction in Middle of Final Round

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

USGA Regrets Causing Turmoil; Johnson Was Told of Possible Rules Infraction in Middle of Final Round

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits

The United States Golf Association apologized Monday for the manner and the timing in which its top rules and tournament officials informed U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson on the 12th tee at Oakmont on Sunday that he might be penalized for a rule violation when the final round was completed.

But the USGA is not backing down from the final ruling: that Johnson violated Rule 18-2 on the fifth green when his actions caused his ball to move before he putted.

None of it really mattered. A combination of Johnson's steady play over the last seven holes and Shane Lowry fading with three consecutive bogeys on the back nine resulted in a four-shot victory and Johnson's first major championship after years of close calls, late fades and plain bad luck.

After Johnson was docked with the penalty in the scoring area, it officially became a three-shot victory as he finished with a 69 and a four-round total of 4-under-par 276.

A national uproar about the USGA leaving Johnson in the dark about whether he'd be penalized or not was joined by no less than Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods - who have won a combined 32 majors and seven U.S. Opens.

"Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling," said the statement, which was released by the USGA media relations department and not attributed to any individual. "It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the score card is returned.

"While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leader board after we informed Dustin on the 12th tee that his actions on the fifth green might lead to a penalty. This created unnecessary ambiguity for Dustin and the other players."

As far as the actual rule violation, the USGA held fast.

"Our officials reviewed the video of Dustin on the fifth green and determined that based on the weight of the evidence, it was more likely than not that Dustin caused his ball to move," the statement said. "Dustin's putter contacted the ground at the side of the ball, and almost immediately after, the ball moved."

The statement contained a vow that the process of informing players about rulings during rounds will be studied.

The controversy began when Johnson's ball on the fifth green moved backwards slightly as he addressed a 6-foot par-putt attempt. He had not yet soled the putter behind the ball, and backed off and called for an official. Two of them showed up: USGA rules chairman Mark Newell and USGA championship committee chairman Stu Francis.

They asked Johnson if he had done anything to cause the ball to move. Johnson said he didn't, and Newell and Francis (along with playing partner Lee Westwood) agreed. …

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