This time, Johnson overcomes controversial penalty

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2016, 3:08 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – For a guy who’d found all manner of ways to lose a major, this was a stunningly new twist.

The man who can move a golf ball insanely long distances was drawn into a “he said, he said” with the USGA over a golf ball that nudged a fraction of an inch at the worst possible time on Sunday at the U.S. Open.

Did Dustin Johnson cause his ball to move as he prepared to putt on the fifth green?

Had he unwittingly run afoul of the rules, again, or were gravity and insanely fast greens to blame?

This time it didn’t matter. DJ made sure of that with a performance that will be remembered as equal parts surreal and special.

Johnson, the sometimes troubled and infinitely talented 31-year-old bomber who had come painfully short so many times, won his major in convincing fashion – closing with a 68-turned-69 thanks to a bizarre rules violation that nonetheless left him three strokes clear of the field.

Although never one to get caught up in minutia, Johnson would be forgiven if he recalls his Oakmont breakthrough as a four-stroke triumph – the margin he would have won by had he not run afoul of yet another rules snafu – but then the U.S. Open trophy thankfully doesn’t come with small print or asterisks.

Instead, Johnson will recall starting the final round four strokes adrift of Shane Lowry, who is best described as a jolly, bearded giant, following a worst-of-the-week 71 in Round 3.

Major championships aren’t won on Sunday mornings, but Lowry seemed to score a moral victory when he completed his delayed third round early on Father’s Day with two birdies over his final four holes for a four-stroke advantage.

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But there are two things at Oakmont that are in short supply – trees and guarantees, no matter the size of one’s lead or heart.

For three days there was the distinct feeling that the golf world had thrown a party and the guest of honor was a no-show, with Oakmont playing soft and soggy.

Lowry entered the final turn at 7 under par, the same number eventual champion Ernie Els was going into Sunday at the ’94 Oakmont Open when the beast played to a beautiful par of 71.

For three days, however, Oakmont masqueraded as a par 70 that was left defenseless by torrential rains on Thursday.

But on Sunday Oakmont became painfully familiar, like a recurring nightmare or a visit to the dentist, and Johnson’s plan of persistent punishment worked to perfection.

“Winning any tournament, there's a lot of satisfaction, but to get it done in a major, especially I've been so close so many times, it's just an unbelievable feeling,” said Johnson, who dominated the field tee to green. “It's hard to even describe.”

Johnson birdied the second hole after driving to the edge of the green and he seemed to sidestep the type of fateful mistake that cost him in the past when his ball moved as he prepared to hit his par putt on the fifth green.

Johnson told the walking official he hadn’t grounded his club and he was advised there had been no rules violation, but we’ll come back to that.

A birdie at the ninth moved Johnson into a tie for the lead and Lowry continued his free-fall with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 9 and 10.

It was at the 12th tee when things began to unravel in far too familiar fashion for Johnson. There were no wayward drives, no untimely three-putts, no mental lapses which have haunted him in the past.

Instead, it was Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and competition, who informed Johnson that officials planned to review the ruling from the fifth green after the round and that he might be penalized a stroke.

“We agreed that we were concerned about what we saw and felt obligated to have a conversation with Dustin about it, and the 12th tee presented the best opportunity to do that,” Hall said. “We told him that what we saw was a concern, but we also asked him a couple of questions.”

For seven holes Johnson, who steadfastly contended he did nothing to make his ball move and shouldn’t have been penalized, battled indecision, an increasingly difficult golf course and an assortment of some of the best players in the game – including world No. 1 Jason Day, who cut the lead to three strokes at one point.

Sergio Garcia, who also made a run on Sunday, once opined that he felt like he was playing more than the field at major championships.

On Sunday at Oakmont Johnson would have been forgiven if he felt similarly out-gunned against the field if not the rules committee.

“At that moment there was nothing I could do about it. Let’s just focus on that shot and go from there,” Johnson said. “This golf course is very difficult. It’s very difficult to close, so from 12 to 18 I just tried to focus on what I was doing.”

That Johnson would make the peculiar and largely panned ruling irrelevant with a dominant performance only added to a moment he’d been denied so many times.

For a player who some considered incapable of dealing - or unwilling to deal - with major championship pressure, Johnson put on a clinic in crisis management.

After three-putting the 14th hole for bogey, Johnson played a perfectly U.S. Open round of golf with pars at Nos. 15, 16 and 17 and a towering approach to 5 feet at the last.

The man who had three-putted the last green at last year’s U.S. Open to lose by a stroke, who grounded his club in a dirt-patch hazard and was penalized two strokes at the 2010 PGA Championship, who had stood on the edge of major glory so many times and failed, refused to allow fate and an unfavorable rub of the green to keep him from his major.

“Just one more thing to add to the list, right?” he figured with a smile born from his ability to overcome adversity.

Throughout Johnson’s eventful career, which now includes victories every year for nine consecutive seasons, he’d spoken of when, not if, he’d win a major and at Oakmont he broke free of the Grand Slam gloom on his own terms.

“It’s validation for all the work he’s done, on the golf course and off the golf course. Regardless of who you are each near-miss, and he’s always processed this stuff differently than anyone else, but the clock’s always ticking and the questions just grow and grow,” Johnson’s manager, David Winkle, said. “Now he will have a little bit of relief.”

When Johnson eased his birdie attempt into the hole at the last he flashed a rare show of emotion, hugged his fiancée and son and was met by Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA.

The moment was a perfect metaphor for so many years of frustration and major futility.

Congratulations on winning the U.S. Open, now add one.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

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A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

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Departure from TaylorMade

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Squashed beef with Paddy

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Victory at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm