Dustin Johnson entered the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship with a one stroke lead. If he made par on the hole, he would take home a major championship. He ended up bogeying the hole, missing a 7-foot putt to seemingly win the title.
As Johnson walked off the green, a rules official informed Johnson that he may have grounded his club in a sand trap. The result would be a 2-shot penalty, dropping Johnson from a tie for first and spot in a three-person playoff all the way down to a three-way tie for fifth. In seconds, Johnson went from having a chance to win a major tournament, to a spot in a playoff, to fifth place. The champion took home 1.35 million, 2nd place won $810,000, and Johnson ended up with $270,833. In the time it took to read this paragraph, Johnson grounding his club in the sand likely cost him more than $500,000.
The golf course, Whistling Straits, has more than 1,000 bunkers, many of which fans walked through or stood in throughout the tournament. Johnson did not believe his ball was in a bunker, saying afterwards, "Walking up there, seeing the shot, it never crossed my mind that I was in a sand trap. It's very unfortunate...I just thought it was on a piece of dirt the crowd had trampled down. Never thought it was a sand trap. I looked at it a lot, never once thought it was a bunker."
Why does golf have obscure rules such as this one? Why is it a two-stroke penalty? Is this fair? Many young fans of golf may ask these questions. Although we may not have great answers to these questions, there are some lessons to be learned:
1) Know the rules: The PGA reminded players with a sign in the locker room this week that every bunker was a hazard.
2) Not all rules make great sense: It seems unlikely Johnson got much, if any, advantage by grounding his club. That does not obscure the fact that rules are in place, sometimes for good reasons, others for reasons not so clear. It is our job to know the rules of our home, school, sport, and workplace.
3) Life is not always fair: Johnson played well enough to make the playoff. Although it seems cruel he did not, the PGA would have certainly been criticized if it did not enforce the very rule it had reminded players of before the tournament started. $600,000 and a chance to win a major title seem to be a pretty steep cost for touching the sand, but in the end the rules are what they are and Johnson violated one that ended up to be very costly.