If you’ve been paying attention this summer then you know the answer to this question. What do Dustin Johnson and Anna Nordqvist have in common? Hint: It involves American golf’s governing body, the USGA making separate controversial and baffling rules decisions within a span of 22 days.
On June 19 in the final round of the men’s US Open, Johnson was assessed a one-shot penalty after his round because the “preponderance of evidence” from a high-definition video replay of his pre-putt routine on the 5th green showed his ball wavered. On July 10 in a playoff to determine the women’s US Open champion, Anna Nordqvist was assessed a two-shot penalty because television video showed she accidently touched the sand with her 5-iron before she hit her shot. She lost the prestigious title to Brittany Lang.
The USGA has had a pretty rough go of things recently, having banned the use of anchored putters, which made a lot of golfers like me angry. A few years ago, for the first time ever in golf history, a penalty was assessed to a player based on a viewer calling into PGA offices to complain. Now, in the case with DJ, ranked No. 2 in the world, we have the USGA doing the unfathomable on its biggest stage, taking almost two hours and six holes of play to inform Johnson that he might be assessed a one-shot penalty because high-definition video footage showed his ball shaking while he addressed it on the 5th green.
Rory McIlroy called the situation “amateur hour.” Jordan Spieth said it was a “joke.” Rickie Fowler called it “laughable” and there is no reason to disagree. The situation should have been handled differently by the USGA but technology has intruded into high-level, televised golf. It has replaced the practicality and spirit of the rules with microscopic, super slow-motion high definition replays to try to prove a point. If someone is cheating we want to see it clearly on replay and call a penalty. What should have happened in Johnson’s case is that a rules official walking with the \group should have been consulted and if that official gave the okay that no penalty was committed then “Voila” that’s it.
But golf is a sport that loves its rules and it has a history of strict interpretation and adherence to all of them, and rules which I agree with one-hundred percent, no exceptions. In 1968 we witnessed Roberto DeVincenzo sign an incorrect scorecard and lose The Masters. In the 2010 PGA Championship we saw Dustin Johnson miss a playoff because he grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole. Incredible, heart-wrenching and dramatic moments but the USGA must call out players who violate the rules. They have to take immediate action to disqualify a player who fails to abide by them, despite the criticism and potential embarrassment.
In the case of Anna Nordqvist, the USGA make the proper ruling assessing a two-shot penalty, which was confirmed by use of high-definition video replay. In some cases in golf tournaments, video reply is required and necessary to make the correct decision, although a time limit should be imposed, like one-hole or 20 minutes.
The USGA’s summer scorecard reads 0 – 2 with clumsy rules situations which have overshadowed two national championships. Call USGA officials obnoxious or ingrates or you-fill-in-the-blank but I believe we need golf’s governing body to enforce the rules and to call out world-class players who might show indifference or ignorance. Video cameras and instant replays are here and golf had better get used to it in future high-profile events.
Tom Gorman has been a golf writer since 1992 and has observed bad officiating in golf and many other sports.