Photo: Jim Cook
Dustin Johnson, the victim of the ‘Bunkergate’ ruling last year, was involved in another Rules infraction last week in the first round of the PGA Northern Trust Open in California. Johnson was in the middle of his warm-up routine on the range, thinking that he had 30 minutes before his tee-off time, when a PGA Tour official ran over to tell him he was supposed to be on the first tee, located up a 100-foot slope next to the historic clubhouse. He raced up the hill, arriving 4 minutes and fifty seconds after his official tee time of 7.32 am.
Rule 6-1 states;
The player must start at the time established by the Committee.However, there is a Note to this Rule;
Penalty for Breach of Rule 6-3: Disqualification.
The Committee may provide, in the conditions of a competition (Rule 33-1), that if the player arrives at his starting point, ready to play, within five minutes after his starting time, in the absence of circumstances that warrant waiving the penalty of disqualification as provided in Rule 33-7, the penalty for failure to start on time is loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play instead of disqualification.Apparently, the PGA Tour invokes this Condition of Competition and so Johnson was only penalised two strokes, turning his par 5 for the first hole to a double bogey 7. He then went on to bogey the second hole and double bogey the 4th, demonstrating what many of us have experienced ourselves, that it doesn’t help your game when you rush on to the first tee. It later transpired that Johnson routinely leaves his starting times to his caddy, Bobby Brown, who did take total blame for the mix-up that led to the penalty.
There was a bizarre twist to this story when Golf Channel reporter, Jim Gray, went out on the course to interview Johnson about the blunder, in the middle of his round. Naturally, caddy Brown objected and after the round the two got into a heated, profanity-laced discussion over the incident. Gray was immediately removed from the coverage of the Northern Trust Open and some reports suggest that it could be the last time the freelance reporter will be seen on Golf Channel, who obviously did not approve of his actions on and off the course.
It is easy to criticise Dustin Johnson, a high-profile career golfer, for being late on the first tee; I am sure that not all the professionals leave it to their caddies to get them there on time. However, perhaps we can benefit by scrutinising our own habits in this regard. There are many good reasons to arrive at the course well in advance of your tee time and disqualification from the competition is just one of them. Apart from the fact that we are more likely to find our A-game if we do some stretches, practice putting and swinging, read the Local Rules and arrive on the first tee in a relaxed state, we also owe it to our fellow competitors not to delay their game in any way.
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