Dustin Johnson talking to the referee on 5th putting green
First, I would like to address a basic misunderstanding that was widely spread by media commentators, some of them Professional golfers, which caused confusion amongst their audiences. There is a distinction between addressing a ball and grounding a club;
- A player has ‘addressed the ball’ when he has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance.
- A club has been ‘grounded’ when the grass is compressed to the point where it will support the weight of the club (from Decision 13-4/8)
So, nobody doubts that the ball moved, the question is did the weight of evidence indicate that it is more likely than not that DJ caused his ball to move, even though that conclusion is not completely free from doubt. The factors that have to be taken into account when arriving at a conclusion are set out in Decision 18-2/0.5, which is too long for me to reproduce here, but can be viewed on-line at this link.
In my opinion, it was more likely than not that DJ did cause his ball to move by disturbing the grasses next to his ball creating a domino effect whereby grasses that were under the ball were moved, resulting in the ball settling into a different spot. It is interesting to note that in similar circumstances during Saturday’s play, Shane Lowry called a penalty on himself and replaced his ball, admitting that he had caused it to move slightly, even though he did not touch it with his club. (Edit 4th July: If you think that the Ruling Bodies were unduly harsh on DJ take a look at this incident of him causing his ball to move when he was not assessed a penalty, because it was ruled that his ball settled back to its original spot).
One point that other reporters do not seem to have picked-up on is that when the referee asked, "You didn't ground your club [did you]?" DJ replied, "No". When it became obvious to those reviewing the videotape that he had, it surely worked against him. I am not suggesting that he was lying; he probably thought that the referee meant, did he address his ball, but his answer to the question asked was clearly wrong. The reason why the distinction between addressing the ball and grounding the club is so important, is that for four years prior to January of this year there was a Rule, part of which stated; If a player's ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke. The reason that I have greyed this is that this Rule 18-2b no longer exists, which presumably had escaped the attention of TV commentators and some Pro golfers who jumped in to criticize the USGA, using the lack of address as to why there was no penalty. The same overall test as to whether a player has caused their ball to move (in Rule 18-2) now applies to all actions by a player anywhere on the course, whether they have addressed their ball, or not.
The one outstanding question that I have, which was not directly covered in the USGA statement, is why the penalty was only one stroke, when the penalty statement under Rule 18 states;
*If a player who is required to replace a ball fails to do so, or if he makes a stroke at a ball substituted under Rule 18 when such substitution is not permitted, he incurs the general penalty for breach of Rule 18, but there is no additional penalty under this Rule.My guess is that because the referee accepted that DJ had not caused his ball to move he had tacitly approved that the ball did not have to be replaced, which is the case if the player has not caused their ball to move. Therefore, it would have been inequitable to impose the additional penalty stroke and I certainly agree with that, although I would prefer that it had been properly explained. (Edit 22nd June, 2016: It has now been pointed out to me that Decision 34-3/7 deals explicitly with this situation).
Finally, on the matter of whether players should be informed that they may have incurred a penalty whilst continuing their round out on the course, which is the point that seems to have enraged most viewers of this engaging, US Open final round. It seems an easy decision on the face of it; make a snap judgement as to whether a penalty was incurred, telling the player if the ruling goes against them and reflecting it on the scoreboard; or ignore the fact that there may have been a breach and let the players get on with it. In the former scenario, the player, their fellow competitors, caddies, even spectators, are not given a chance to provide evidence on the matter in question; in the latter case, the rights of every other competitor in the field are effected, if it subsequently is proven that a breach had occurred. There is no perfect solution. The Rules have evolved to where they are now with the accumulated experience of more than 250 years of competitive golf. Far from being ‘amateurs’, which is an accusation made against them by many who should know better, those engaged with USGA and R&A are golf enthusiasts, who work tirelessly to ensure that competitors in golf competitions, wherever they are played, at whatever level, are playing to the same Rules.
P.S. I do not intend to engage in lengthy discourse with readers that disagree with my opinions on this matter, but I will post any comments that add to the discussion, providing they are reasonably expressed.
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USGA Statement Regarding Dustin Johnson Ruling
The USGA wishes to congratulate Dustin Johnson on his victory and thank him, and the other players in the field, for their professionalism and grace throughout the championship. Dustin is a wonderful champion, a talented golfer and a gentleman.
Our team at the USGA has seen and heard a great deal of discussion and debate about the ruling on Dustin’s ball moving during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club. In addition to the explanations we offered upon the conclusion of the final round, we add these comments.
Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the score card is returned. While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leader board after we informed Dustin on the 12th tee that his actions on the fifth green might lead to a penalty. This created unnecessary ambiguity for Dustin and the other players, as well as spectators on-site, and those watching and listening on television and digital channels.
During any competition, the priority for Rules officials is to make the correct ruling for the protection of the player(s) involved and the entire field. In applying Rule 18-2, which deals with a ball at rest that moves, officials consider all the relevant evidence – including the player’s actions, the time between those actions and the movement of the ball, the lie of the ball, and course and weather conditions. If that evidence, considered together, shows that it is more likely than not that the player’s actions caused the ball to move, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty. Officials use this “more likely than not” standard because it is not always apparent what caused the ball to move. Such situations require a review of the evidence, with Decision 18-2/0.5 providing guidance on how the evidence should be weighed.
Our officials reviewed the video of Dustin on the fifth green and determined that based on the weight of the evidence, it was more likely than not that Dustin caused his ball to move. Dustin’s putter contacted the ground at the side of the ball, and almost immediately after, the ball moved.
We accept that not everyone will agree that Dustin caused his ball to move. Issues under Rule 18-2 often require a judgment where there is some uncertainty, and this was one of those instances. We also understand that some people may disagree with Rule 18-2 itself. While we respect the viewpoints of those who disagree, our Committee made a careful and collective judgment in its pursuit of a fair competition played under the Rules of Golf.
In keeping with our commitment to excellence in all aspects of our work on behalf of the game of golf, we pledge to closely examine our procedures in this matter. We will assess our procedures for handling video review, the timing of such, and our communication with players to make sure that when confronted with such a situation again, we will have a better process.
We at the USGA deeply appreciate the support of players, fans, and the entire golf community of our championships and our other work for golf – and we appreciate your feedback as well. We have established an email address (email@example.com) and phone mailbox (908-326-1857) to receive comments. We thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.
We all share an abiding love of this great game. Let us continue to work together for its good.