The business end of a pencil hadn’t received so much attention at a major championship since 1968 when Roberto De Vicenzo signed for a par that should have been a birdie.
In Dustin Johnson’s case the 2010 PGA Championship was snatched from his oversized hands by a hazard that should have been a cart path. Or a sandbox or beer stand, anything but a hazard. Not that any of that helped soften the blow for Johnson who, like the affable Argentine nearly a half decade earlier, watched helplessly as his maiden major was whisked away with the stroke of a pencil’s eraser.
In the frantic moments that followed Johnson’s gaffe on Whistling Straits' 18th hole the range of emotions covered the grieving spectrum outlined years ago by Kubler-Ross – DABDA (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance).
In hindsight an impromptu rules seminar wouldn’t have been out of the question, but, sadly, Johnson asked only to have the gallery moved back.
It wasn’t until after Johnson tapped in for a bogey, and what he thought was an 11-under 277 total that should have sent him into a playoff with eventual champion Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson, that Price informed the lanky southerner that he’d grounded his club in the unmaintained bunker adjacent the 18th fairway.
“What bunker?” Johnson replied.
In the surreal moments that followed Johnson learned that, per a local rules sheet that was distributed to all competitors and posted in the locker room, all of Pete Dye’s handiwork was considered “in play,” meaning that the ubiquitous bunkers that dot the property were all to be played as hazards.
“It never once crossed my mind that I was in a bunker. Obviously I know the Rules of Golf, and I can't ground my club in a bunker, but that was just one situation I guess,” Johnson told a group of reports before bolting the property. “Maybe I should have looked at the rule sheet a little harder.”
In the moments after Johnson’s miscue decided the year’s final Grand Slam he flirted with anger – “If it was up to me, I wouldn't have thought I was in the bunker” – and perhaps even a little denial – “I hit some really good shots coming down the stretch.” – but as he headed for the Wisconsin exit late Sunday the 26-year-old had already lapsed into what could only be considered acceptance.
“But, you know, that’s how it goes,” said Johnson, who just two months earlier had began the final round at the U.S. Open with a three-stroke lead but crashed to a triple bogey-double bogey-bogey start and tied for eighth place.
While Dye and Herb Kohler, Whistling Straits’ owner, remained in what seemed to be a state of denial: “It’s what should have happened,” Kohler offered after a noticeably subdued trophy presentation.
Luckily for Johnson redemption was less than a month away at the BMW Championship where he rallied from a stroke back in the final round and held off Paul Casey for his first playoff victory – his final putt every bit as poignant as that eraser that ultimately decided the PGA.
“There are a lot of good things I can take from that day other than the last hole. I played really good golf. I birdied 16 and 17 to get a one-shot lead going down the stretch,” Johnson said at Cog Hill. “It’s what I play for. That's why I practice. That's why I'm here is to win golf tournaments and to have a chance to win a major on Sunday coming down 18. To get there and do that through 17 holes, you know, disregard the unfortunate situation; I still did everything I was supposed to do.”