I Cared About a Major Without Tiger or Phil? Sort of…

August 16, 2010 |

Watching golf on television all day in the middle of summer is torture.  If golf is what you do, what you live for, what you breathe, then I understand…you have to watch every event, especially the majors.  But for me to waste a summer weekend watching a sport I can walk out the door and play any time is almost unimaginable. 

Yesterday’s weather in Baltimore though, along with a pretty good hangover, made for the perfect opportunity to settle in on a sleepy sports Sunday and watch some golf in the form of the last major of the year, the PGA Championship.  Tiger’s out, Phil’s out, but there was still enough drama to keep me mildly entertained while falling in and out of various naps throughout the day. 

After the disastrous collapse by Nick Watney to start Championship Sunday, a huge contingent of pros battled to be the next major winner.   This would mean that unless Zach Johnson won, 7 out of the last 8 major champions would be first time winners.  Whether that’s good for the game is another argument, but it does show how much new talent is on the current golf landscape.  Bubba Watson is fun to watch, Zach Johnson is a former Masters champ, Rory McIlroy is an uber-talented young gun, Martin Kaymer is a rising international talent, and Dustin Johnson just seems like a good guy to root for with his “step up to the ball and wack it” mentality.  All were in the hunt at some point on Sunday.

As the end of the day neared, it looked as if Dustin Johnson was about to become the newest “new” champion, with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson hitting every shot possible to stay within a shot of the lead in case Johnson folded.  Martin Kaymer was dropping every putt with the confidence of a winner, and Bubba Watson was his usual self, just crushing the ball off the tee and putting himself in position for shorter, easier shots at the hole. 

When Dustin Johnson hit his tee shot into the crowd on 18 though, it looked like the nerves of winning a major had finally gotten to him.  After wading through a sea of spectators, he lined up a shot and launched it to the left of the green into more tall rough.  Johnson has a routine of just walking up to his ball and striking it.  He doesn’t take a lot of time, doesn’t really take a bunch of practice strokes, he just hits.  It caught me off guard though when he didn’t take his time from this particular rough, with people so close to him I’m surprised he didn’t hit someone on his backswing. 

After chipping onto the green with his fourth shot and two-putting to lose a stroke and go to a three-way tie and subsequent playoff with Watson and Kaymer, Johnson was approached by David Price, who is a PGA rules official.  It was explained to him that he was in a bunker on his second shot, and therefore wasn’t allowed to ground his club, which he had done twice by my estimate.  Johnson was assesed a 2 stroke penalty and was relagated to third place without even taking a playoff shot. 

The outcome is anticlimatic at this point.  Kaymer was his steady self to win his first major, with Watson unsuccessfully attempting to bomb his way out of trouble on the third playoff hole.  The real drama on this day rested in the clubhouse, where officials were scrambling to explain the Dustin Johnson situation. 

I am by no means a rules afficionato when it comes to golf.  Truth be told, I didn’t even know you’re not allowed to ground your club in a bunker…I do it all the time, but I’m a 30 handicap, not a 1.  It’s clear that Johnson knew not to ground his club in a bunker, but what’s not clear is that he was in a bunker.  The ground where he hit his shot was a flat patch of sand and grass with no lip and had been trampled down for a week by fans watching the action.  There really wasn’t anything to indicate that this was a bunker.  I think it was a little dirty in that there were countless officials watching him take his shot that could’ve warned him…and how is it OK for fans to be standing in bunkers that will be in play in a MAJOR tournament?  That being said, Whistling Straight is comprised of over 1000 bunkers and it’s a pretty well known fact among the pros that just about everything off the fairway plays as a bunker.  Pressure aside, Johnson should’ve known this as well, and his caddy DEFINITELY should’ve warned him that it may be a bunker…I’d cut that guy. 

Maybe if Johnson had taken a little more time on his shot he would’ve seen where he was standing and not made this terrible blunder.  But that’s part of what’s endearing to Johnson, his quick approach to the game. 

After watching the officials through the windows of the clubhouse explain to Johnson he was out, I was ready for a meltdown.  And this is where golf could really use  some excitement.  I would’ve loved to seen a Milton Bradley type explosion out of Johnson.  You could tell he was thoroughly disgusted with the decision, but he just bit his lip and sucked it up.  Sure, golf is a “gentlemen’s game”, and part of the rules do require that you conduct yourself with respect and class at all times, but I don’t think it would be detrimental to the sport if someone were to go bananas and say what’s on their mind. 

If Johnson had taken his ball and chucked it through the window of the clubhouse, he may have gotten a fine, but I, along with many others, also may have watched golf again this year.  

Now I guess the closest I’ll come to watching another event in 2010 is Ambien commercials…