Oral history: DJ and the bunker at the 2010 PGA

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There are those who cling to the Rules of Golf and dismiss Dustin Johnson’s miscue on the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship as little more than an awkward and unavoidable truth.

“It’s what should have happened,” said Herb Kohler, who built and owns Whistling Straits, when asked about the two-stroke penalty that cost Johnson a spot in the playoff at the ’10 championship.

Others, however, dismiss the letter of the law when remembering one of the most controversial finishes in major championship history.

“It was not then nor has it ever been a bunker,” said David Feherty, the on-course reporter for CBS Sports covering Johnson during the final round five years ago.

These are the facts:

Johnson began the final round at Whistling Straits, which will host this week’s PGA, three strokes behind Nick Watney and paired in the final group at a major championship for the second time that season (U.S. Open).

By the time Johnson arrived on the 72nd tee he’d just birdied his last two holes and led the field by a stroke when his drive on the hole – fittingly named Dyeabolical after Straits Course designer Pete Dye – sailed well right of the fairway and into a large crowd.

After finding his golf ball and having the gallery moved from his intended line, Johnson grounded his club not once, but twice in one of the Straits Course’s 1,000 bunkers (all of which were deemed hazards in a memo given to players at the beginning of the week).

He made bogey and thought he was heading to a playoff – which was eventually won by Martin Kaymer – but he was instead informed of a possible infraction.

After reviewing the tape in the scoring room, Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty and tied for fifth, two shots out of the playoff.

These are the stories from those who were closest to the action on Sunday at the 2010 PGA:


DUSTIN JOHNSON:

“[No.] 16 is a par 5, but I did make a birdie out of the hay on the left. I do remember that. I hit a 60-degree [wedge]. And then 17 is a tough par 3, and I think I made about a 20-footer (for birdie) on 17.

“I was just playing my shot (at No. 18). It wasn’t like, never once did I walk up and think that I was in a bunker. S*** happens. I mean, there was beer cans and s*** everywhere.”


DAVID PRICE, walking rules official with the final group:

“We had dealt with bunkers on two of the previous five holes before we got to 18, and it was unique. It was a pretty good-sized bunker. But when you had all the people in there and certainly they were covering the back portion of the bunker. My biggest concern for Dustin was all these people hovering around. That’s one of the things I dislike the most, the galleries attempt to hover as close as they can to the player.

“At that point I didn’t think to tell him [he was in a bunker]. In my estimation there was no question he was in a bunker. I was standing there asking people to move back out of the bunker.

“I looked at him and asked if he was OK with everything, and he said he was OK. I asked him if there was anything he needed from me, and he said he needed me to go down and move some people about 30 yards down the fairway.

“I was surprised he hit the shot while I was still moving the gallery.

“On the 18th green I simply said, ‘Dustin there is speculation that you possibly touched the sand in the bunker back on your second shot.’ He just looked at me in kind of shock and said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t think so. I don’t remember.’”


DAVID FEHERTY:

“I was the first one to get to the ball except for the crowd that was spreading beer bottles all around it. It was so not a bunker. It was entirely the wrong decision and one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in major championship history.

“I looked at it and didn’t look at it again and was thinking it was a pretty good lie.

“[Price] goes up to him after he putts out and I’m thinking, does he want an autograph? I had to get [Johnson] out of the shower to interview him. The whole thing was bizarre.

“I was in shock; I can’t imagine how poor Dustin felt. I felt sorry for him to have that yanked out from underneath him like that, it would have destroyed other players.”


NICK WATNEY, third-round leader who was paired with Johnson on Sunday:

“I couldn’t see [Johnson on the 18th hole]. I had no idea where he was and didn’t think he had any issues once he found his ball. I was shooting a million so I wasn’t that worried anyway.

“I think I just assumed, even at Kiawah, when they said everything is a bunker I had a tough time grounding my club because your whole life you’re condition to not ground your club in the sand.

“[Price] came up to us on the 18th green and I thought I’d done something wrong because my day had gone so bad, and he said Dustin may have grounded his club. Dustin was caught off guard. He was like ‘Which hole?’

“Once he saw the tape and went through it in his head it was clear. In no way was he trying to gain an advantage. The rules official has to take some responsibility.”


ALLEN TERRELL, Johnson’s swing coach:

“I honestly never thought, watching it from the camera view, that he was in the bunker. I was aware of the local rule, and I think Dustin was, where everything was deemed a bunker. In that environment, as far right as he hit there, I don’t think it even processed that he was even in a bunker. He just thought he was on a big dune.

“Even if he would have read the rules on the 18th tee I’m still not sure he would have processed it considering where he was.

“I think he won a lot of fans that day. It was the first time the public got to see another side of Dustin and got a closer look at who he was and how he handled adversity.”