Armchair Golf Pro: PGA Championship, Dustin Johnson, Bunkers, Rules of Golf

Hacking out of a bunker

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I mentioned in an earlier post the heart-breaking ending of Dustin Johnson’s bid for the PGA Championship title at Whistling Straits. Essentially he was assessed a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a hazard – a bunker – on his second shot to the 18th green on the final hole of the tournament. He thought he was walking into the clubhouse tied with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer. But the cameras clearly showed his club touching the ground before he made his stroke. Dustin claimed that he did not think he was in a bunker.

I thought it would be worth going over the definition for bunkers in the situation.

Here is how the Rules of Golf define a bunker:
“A “bunker” is a hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like.
Grass-covered ground bordering or within a bunker, including a stacked turf face (whether grass-covered or earthen), is not part of the bunker. A wall or lip of the bunker not covered with grass is part of the bunker. The margin of a bunker extends vertically downward, but not upwards.
A ball is in a bunker when it lies in or any part of it touches the bunker.”

The key words are the notion of a “prepared” area of ground, and ground “bordering” a bunker.

From where I sat in my armchair I could clearly see there was a leading edge to the bunker in front of Dustin’s ball, meaning it was prepared. But the front edge also had a curve to it, and it appeared from my viewpoint that if you extended the curve past where Dustin’s ball lay, the line of the bunker would have been to the right of his ball. Meaning his ball would have been outside the hazard.

The problem was that spectators had been standing in the sand and walking through it. The border of the trap was obscured where his ball was at lie. While it is true his ball was resting on sand, it looked as though it was sand that had been kicked out of the bunker by spectators. And once any sand is outside the border of the hazard it is no longer part of the hazard, just a loose impediment.

So was he in the hazard or not?

If I had been in Dustin’s shoes I would have argued that my ball was outside the border of the hazard, and I would have asked the officials to define where they thought the “border” of the bunker was relative to the lie.
There was a local rule that said all sand on the course is considered part of a hazard, and all the players were aware of the local rule. Maybe the local rule trumped the Rules of Golf definition. In any case I will say that the PGA officials who make the rulings are VERY good at their job, and would never penalize a player unless the rules were clear. I only know what I saw from my armchair.

The real lesson is this: if there is any doubt, don’t ground your club.

If you have similar lessons to share I’d love to hear them.