Standing behind the 18th green, Nicklaus told Johnson that he was proud of him for persevering amid the rules controversy at Oakmont.
A few moments later, in an interview with a small group of reporters, Nicklaus described the situation between Johnson and USGA officials as “terrible” and “very unfair.”
“In my opinion,” he said, “golf is a game of honor. That’s what the USGA believes in, and that’s what most of the players all believe in. And when you have a situation where the official was there and said, ‘Did you cause it to move?’ and he says, ‘No,’ then that should be the end of the story.
“How’s he supposed to know what caused it to move? You’ve got greens out there with spike marks and pitches. The ball can move at any time.”
Ultimately, the penalty didn’t factor in the final outcome, as Johnson’s margin of victory was trimmed from four shots to three. But Nicklaus was most troubled by how the USGA forced Johnson to play the last seven holes of a major championship with so much uncertainty.
“You either have (a penalty) or you don’t have one,” Nicklaus said. “I think it’s very unfair to the player.”
Nicklaus has become friendly with Johnson, the soon-to-be 32-year-old who practices and plays out of The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla.
“He’s got fantastic talent,” Nicklaus said. “I think he’s probably one of the later bloomers, you might say. He’s just starting in the prime of his career. I think he’s got a great future.”