DID THE USGA GET IT RIGHT ON DUSTIN JOHNSON
On the 5th green at Oakmont, in the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson alerted officials that his golf ball had moved. The matter was reviewed and no penalty was assessed under Rule 18-2 at that time. Rule 18-2 of the Rules of Golf provides: 18-2. By Player, Partner, Caddie or Equipment Except as permitted by the Rules, when a player’s ball is in play, if (i) the player, his partner or either of their caddies: • lifts or moves the ball, • touches it purposely (except with a club in the act of addressing the ball), or • causes the ball to move, or (ii) the equipment of the player or his partner causes the ball to move, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke. An hour or so later — the USGA officials — employing legal sounding principles — seemingly changed its position: 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. See “USGA Statement Regarding Dustin Johnson” issued 6/20/16. (Emphasis supplied.) Fortunately, Dustin Johnson won the Open by 3 shots, so the USGA ruling was not an issue. But this series of events, and countless views of videos from the 5th green at Oakmont, raise the question — Did the USGA get it right on Dustin Johnson? Our office has discussed the matter. By a narrow margin, we believe no penalty should have been assessed under Rule 18-2. What do you think?
Neil T. O’Donnell, Esq.