WHO: Zach Johnson
WHAT: Failed to replace his ball-marker to its original position on the green
WHERE: 441-yard par-4 18th hole at Colonial
WHEN: Final round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial
It was weird. That's the only way to describe what happened on the 18th green last Sunday at Colonial. I had my producer talking to me through an earphone, because we were discussing interview possibilities after Zach and Jason Dufner putted out. While I was talking to the producer, I thought that I saw Zach mark his ball and then move the coin at Jason's request. But I didn't think anything of it, because guys move their markers all the time.
Then Jason missed his birdie putt and tapped in for a par. Jason was three shots behind Zach. Then Zach walked over to his marker. He put down his ball and removed the marker, and right after that I had to ask our CBS spotter a question. I told the spotter, "I don't think Zach put his marker back to its original spot." The spotter didn't know for sure what had happened. Then I went on-air and was speaking with Jim [Nantz] and Nick [Faldo], who were in the 18th-hole tower. I asked them if they saw Zach replace his marker to its original position. They never saw him put it back.
Now I'm having serious doubts. I'm wondering, "Did Zach move his coin in the first place? Is this really happening?" On TV, things appear to happen slowly and casually, but they're moving a million miles a minute from my perspective. So I'm telling myself, "This can't be going on. Surely, Jason would've said something to Zach if Zach had, in fact, moved the marker and not replaced it."
Next thing I know, Zach is standing over his four-footer for par. Thoughts are swirling in my head. I can't in good conscience yell and call Zach off his putt, because that might cause him to miss the putt. I knew some people would think I was favoring Jason for letting Zach putt while knowing he'd get a two-shot penalty for not replacing his marker. Others would think I was favoring Zach for not disturbing him. Also, I wondered if Damon Green, Zach's caddie, had seen anything, but I guessed he was unaware because he'd been raking a bunker and cleaning Zach's ball when Zach had moved his marker. So I remained silent and let Zach pull the trigger, and the rest is history.
It turned out, of course, that Zach had moved the marker and forgotten to replace it. He got the requisite two-shot penalty. The good news is that it didn't affect the outcome, because Zach made the putt and was already ahead by three strokes. He ended up winning by one.
I've never experienced anything like this. It was simply the perfect storm. The player who asks his opponent to move a marker usually reminds him to move it back. But Jason was brain dead from the exhausting final round, so he never reminded Zach. Damon, Zach's caddie, hadn't seen what transpired, so he couldn't help. And Zach was so pumped up and emotional that he forgot to replace the marker.
On Twitter, this event has been hotly debated. Many people suggested that somebody in the media shouldn't get involved in rules situations. I disagree. I'm an observer, like the millions of fans attending the event and watching on TV, and it's our obligation to report a violation if we see something. I don't want to get involved, but sometimes it's unavoidable.
THE DRILL: There is a way to avoid a situation like Zach's from ever happening. The key is to have a routine that automatically reminds you when you've moved your ball marker. Some tour players mark their balls with one side of a coin, and after they move the marker they put down the marker with the other side of the coin. I do something different. When I move my marker, I put the putter cover back on the putter. So if I ever see the cover on the putter and it's not my first putt, I know that I have to return the marker to its original position.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Peter Kostis teaches at the Grayhawk Learning Center in Scottsdale, Ariz.