DJ and the USGA: What should have happened

By John FeinsteinJune 21, 2016, 6:10 pm

Let’s begin with a few simple facts:

• Dustin Johnson’s Sunday performance at Oakmont was one of the best final rounds anyone has ever played in a U.S. Open – or any major – especially given the uniquely confusing circumstances.

• Oakmont remains one of the great Open venues – although the USGA may need to give some thought to just how far it wants to go with green speeds. Four players broke par even on a golf course that played soft for most of three rounds.

• The USGA should seriously consider tithing 10 percent of the annual money it is paid by Fox to Johnson for winning as easily as he did. If Johnson had finished one stroke ahead of Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry and Scott Piercy rather than four or tied with the three runners-up, Oakmont ’16 might have been remembered as the worst debacle in golf history. It would have been Augusta ’68 and Whistling Straits ’10 combined.

Now, for some biased observations, because all observations are biased. My bias may be unique among those who are going to talk and write about what happened on Sunday because I like the USGA. I wrote a book 16 years ago about the first Bethpage Black Open (cleverly titled, ‘Open’) and those who work for the USGA not only made the book possible with extraordinary access, but went out of their way to make the process enjoyable. To this day, many of those people – including executive director Mike Davis – are still with the USGA and are people I consider friends.

So, there’s my disclaimer.

Everyone knows there is no grind like that of a U.S. Open. The logistics are always difficult for everyone. On Tuesday, when Masters champion Danny Willett tried to walk across the street from the house where he was staying to the front entrance to Oakmont, he was told he couldn’t walk in: he either had to go back to his house and get his car to drive about 200 yards or walk down the street and around the corner to a walk-in entrance.

On Thursday, when several players found shelter in the media center during the first rain delay, a couple of them were told in the dining area that they couldn’t get something to eat because they didn’t have media credentials. It took several media members explaining who they were and why they were there to get them food.

Then there’s the golf course. Davis is one of the most affable and likeable men on earth, but when he insists each year that the USGA doesn’t care what the winning score is, it’s impossible not to think he’s got his fingers crossed behind his back as he’s speaking.

“They want the winning score to be even par,” Jordan Spieth said. “That’s not opinion, that’s fact. Just look at history.”

In fact, the last time the Open was at Oakmont in 2007, Angel Cabrera’s winning score was 5 over par. Had the rain not intervened, it is likely Johnson’s winning score would have been a lot higher than 4 and a half under par. (More on that in a minute). Make no mistake though: Johnson was going to win this championship. He came out crushing the ball – not making a bogey for his first 27 holes – and even though he sputtered a little in the third round, shooting 71 while Lowry was shooting 65, he never blinked. He just kept blasting drives and hitting towering irons. Only his putter kept this from being a runaway.

Okay, let’s talk about the mysterious moving golf ball. Back to indisputable facts: As Johnson stood over a 4-foot par putt on the fifth hole, he took two practice putts and then began to putt his putter behind the ball. Before he placed the putter in address position, it somehow rolled a couple millimeters backward.

Johnson backed off the ball right away and looked first at his brother, Austin, who is his caddie, to say the ball had moved and then told playing partner Lee Westwood what had happened. He called in Mark Newell, who was the walking rules official with the group (and is chairman of the USGA’s rules committee) and told him what had happened.

Newell nodded and said, “just play it as it lies.”

The implication was clear: based on Johnson’s description of what happened, Newell did not think he had caused the ball to move.

Naturally, the USGA’s phones started ringing because there are always people watching at home who are looking for an ‘aha!’ rules moment and Jeff Hall, the USGA’s director of rules and championships, got a call saying he might want to look at the video.

Hall was on the golf course, roving, in case there was any sort of rules or pace-of-play issue.

Quick interjection: Hall is one of the USGA people who was so helpful to me in 2002. He’s smart, dedicated and wants what is best for the game.

Hall looked at the tape, then called in Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s director of rules to look at the tape. Based on what happened later, it’s pretty clear that Hall and Pagel decided Johnson should be penalized. That’s when they went to tell Johnson on the 12th tee that he might be penalized at the end of the round. In truth, there’s almost no doubt he was going to be penalized.

Somehow, Johnson didn’t let the uncertainty of it all get to him. He played brilliant golf down the stretch while the other contenders were fading. This Open will be remembered for many things, but the memory we should all hang on to is the way Johnson played the 18th hole, one of golf’s toughest closing holes. He bombed a drive, hit a stunning 6-iron to 3-feet and knocked the putt in for a dagger-through-the-heart birdie. Undoubtedly, no one was happier to see him pull away the last few holes than the USGA.

I think I know the rules of golf pretty well. But I’m not an expert. So, Monday, I called several people who are. Here’s the consensus – and it is pretty much overwhelming – of what they said.

Newell’s initial ruling, that Johnson didn’t cause the ball to move, was almost certainly correct. That said, there was nothing wrong with Hall and Pagel taking a look at slo-mo replay in case they saw something that Johnson couldn’t see.

Once they decided that Johnson had caused the ball to move, which they clearly did when they looked at the video, they should have told him that. You can’t ask athletes in any sport to play without knowing the score. Although Johnson had the right to appeal the ruling once his round was over, he almost certainly wasn’t going to get it changed. It was a subjective decision and Hall and Pagel had made their decision.

Again, this is the consensus of the officials I spoke with. Johnson and the field needed to know the score, not what might be the score. You play differently with a one-shot lead (or deficit) than with a two shot lead (or deficit).

Finally, there’s the issue of benefit of the doubt. Most players, if they are in doubt about a possible violation, will err on the side of caution and penalize themselves. But they do not have to do so. They are allowed to give themselves the benefit of the doubt, if there is doubt. Clearly, there was doubt here. Unless Hall and Pagel were 100 percent certain that Newell’s initial ruling was wrong, they should have left his call in place. If you watched that replay 10,000 times you couldn’t possibly be sure that Johnson caused the ball to move.

Finally, there’s this: some (not all) of the officials believe – though there’s no doubt the USGA will deny this for the next 100 years – that if Johnson had won by one or tied for first, the penalty would not have been called.

Ironically, if that were the case, it would have been the right decision. Johnson’s brilliance allowed them to stand behind a call that shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

In 2010, Johnson was hurt at Whistling Straits when David Price, the walking rules official with his group on the last day of the PGA Championship under-officiated – failing to remind him he was in a bunker, even though it looked more like a sandy garbage pit than a bunker. Price should have simply said, “you know you’re in a bunker there, right Dustin?” but failed to do so.

Sunday, Johnson could have been hurt by over-officiating and Hall and Pagel intervening when no intervention was necessary. This time though, he overcame the officials. In time, we can all hope that’s what we will all most remember about this U.S. Open.

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Storms halt Barbasol before Lincicome tees off

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - Brittany Lincicome will have to wait until the weekend to resume her bid to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Overnight storms delayed the start of the second round Friday in the Barbasol Championship, and an afternoon thunderstorm suspended competition for good. The round will resume Saturday morning with much of the field still to play.

The second stoppage at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came 20 minutes before Lincicome's scheduled tee time.

Lincicome was near the bottom of the field after opening with a 6-over 78 on Thursday. The first LPGA player since Michelle Wie in 2008 to start a PGA Tour event, she needs a huge rebound to join Babe Zaharias (1945) as the only female players to make the cut.

Troy Merritt had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, following an opening 62 with a 67.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”