The United States Golf Association today stands guilty of bringing golf into disrepute and can count its lucky stars that the sport has avoided suffering an embarrassing episode that could have inflicted long-term damage.
That Dustin Johnson ultimately won the 116th US Open was a case of justice being done in more ways than one, most importantly though because it meant that he overcame the event’s blundering organisers playing with his head in a truly shocking way and, in the process, turned what was shaping up to be a mouthwatering finish to the season’s second major at Oakmont into a complete and utter farce.
No wonder the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, both reacting to the situation on social media, expressed horror over what they were seeing after the USGA took seven holes to decide to tell Johnson he could face a penalty for his ball moving on the fifth green then waited until he was finished his final round before imposing it.
Admittedly viewing the events with a clearer head than those involved in the heat of battle after he had missed the cut, McIlroy got it right when he said that Johnson should have dug his heels in on the 12th tee and refused to hit another shot until the matter had been resolved.
By all accounts, the TV compound was close by and he should have been taken there to be shown what the USGA were concerned about, although, ultimately, he would not have agreed with the penalty they imposed and not many will surely feel it was the correct course of action.
Where the USGA got it spectacularly wrong, though, and opened itself up to being branded as “amateur” – McIlroy, the 2011 champion, also offered that description and certainly wasn’t alone in doing so – was by creating uncertainty when that was the last thing a group of players battling it out for one of the game’s top titles needed.
While all the competitors still out on the course were informed of Johnson’s possible penalty, it created an unsavoury situation, one that simply would not have been allowed to happen in any other sport (other than perhaps motor racing, where it has been known for time penalties to be imposed after a race has been completed) and heads must roll as a consequence.
Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, has to accept the ultimate responsibility for this shambles, even though it was Thomas Pagel, a rules official, who pitifully tried to defend the way the matter had been handled afterwards. If this had happened at an Open Championship, it would have been the responsibility of Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, to sort it out at the right time, so Davis, who clearly isn’t camera shy, must take the buck and step down from his handsomely-paid post.
Let’s not kid ourselves here. It all worked out tickety-boo for Johnson in the end as he finally claimed that first major title that he had let slip agonisingly from his grasp on two or three occasions, notably in this same event in 2010 at Pebble Beach holding a three-shot lead going into the final round and 12 months ago at Chambers Bay, where he three-putted from 12 feet at the last in losing out to Jordan Spieth.
That, however, was only down to a combination of the 31-year-old from South Carolina managing to rediscover his composure after clearly becoming frazzled for a couple of holes and Shane Lowry losing his touch on the treacherous Oakmont greens at the wrong time as the Irishman made three successive three-putts.
He didn’t know it, of course, but Lowry, a real credit to himself, his country and the European Tour for the way he not only played but also handled having a penalty imposed earlier in the event over an incident similar to the Johnson one, actually regained the lead with six holes to play, yet we will never know if he would have played that closing stretch differently if he had been aware of that position.
On this evidence, Lowry can enjoy his day in the sun in the not-too-distant future. This one, though, definitely belonged to Johnson. After those past US Open disappointments, coupled, of course, with missing out on a play-off in the 2010 US PGA Championship after suffering a two-shot penalty at the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits, no-one will surely begrudge him this title.
It’s just a pity the incompetence of one of the game’s governing bodies is the big talking point to come out of the event and those boos by spectators that greeted the news at the prizegiving that Johnson had, in fact, been docked a shot will hopefully ring loud in a recurring nightmare for Davis and his fellow blundering buffoons.