OAKMONT, PA. – Nothing seemed to bother him, not a wrongheaded ruling that threatened to derail his round, not his previous collapses, not even the increasingly difficult golf course that prides itself on Sunday angst.
Dustin Johnson is an aloof golfer who oozes athletic arrogance and is set to be married to the pinup girl daughter of a hockey legend. Sunday at the U.S. Open, Johnson’s calm and the USGA’s inanity conspired to make him a man of the people.
He cruised to victory at Oakmont Country Club for his first major championship, surviving a penalty stroke assessed to him by the United States Golf Association immediately after the round. That turned his round into a 69 and reduced his final victory margin to three strokes.
What’s funny is that after the USGA did all it could to ruin his day — telling him on the course that he wouldn’t know what his actual score was for the rest of the round — Johnson saved the bureaucrats from ridicule by running away with the tournament.
“I felt like it was well-deserved,” he said. “All the things that have happened to me in majors the past few years? This one was definitely sweet.”
In 2010 at Whistling Straits, Johnson thought he was headed for a playoff at the PGA Championship, then was told at the 18th green that he would be assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in the loose sand that was that week considered to be a waste bunker.
Sunday, Johnson took a couple of practice putts next to his ball on the fifth green, then called over a rules official to report that the ball had moved.
Because of a rules change, that is no longer an automatic penalty. The player is penalized a stroke only if the player caused the ball to move.
Johnson said he did not make it move. The Oakmont greens were running especially fast, meaning that gravity or even a light gust of wind could make the ball oscillate.
“After he put his club down, within a second his ball moved,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s senior director of the rule of golf. “You have to weigh all of the evidence.”
Hall said the USGA decided that it was “more likely than not” that Johnson caused the ball to move.
That is silly, and waiting until the 12th hole to notify Johnson that he could be penalized after the round is unfair.
Johnson and his competitors played much of the back nine uncertain of where they stood on the leaderboard. This is where Johnson’s notoriously uncluttered mind finally became a benefit.
Johnson continued to unleash the world’s longest and straightest drives, and he birdied the daunting 18th following a massive drive and a 6-iron to five feet.
Asked about the ruling, he said: “It doesn’t matter now. And I’m glad. That would have been bad.”
As word of the USGA’s idiocy spread, fans chanted “DJ” and “USA” on the back nine. They also chanted the ruling body’s initials, along with a few vulgarities not frequently heard during majors since Tiger Woods was in his prime.
Amid uncertainty, the back nine on Sunday took on the tenor not of elevated drama but of bureaucratic officiousness.
Virtually every great golfer in the world took to social media to ridicule the USGA. Rory McIlroy, in one of his tamer tweets, wrote: “This isn’t right for anyone on the golf course. If it was me I wouldn’t hit another shot until this farce was rectified.”
When Johnson received the trophy on the 18th green, fans booed the first mention of the USGA.
“They said we were going to look at it when we got done,” Johnson said. “I decided not to worry about the penalty stroke and just play golf from there to the house.”
At the clubhouse he was greeted by his fiancée, Paulina, the daughter of Wayne Gretzky, and their son, Tatum.
“Best Father’s Day ever,” Johnson said, and he didn’t have to wait for a ruling on that.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org