The 116th U.S. Open at Oakmont will be remembered for Dustin Johnson's sterling play but also for a stunning rules controversy that, as Curtis Strange puts it, "hijacked" much of the final round. For a peek behind the scenes of one of the wildest episodes in U.S. Open history, GOLF.com interviewed players, officials and media members who were squarely in the eye of the storm.
Additional reporting contributed by Michael Bamberger, Jessica Marksbury, Josh Sens, Alan Shipnuck, Marika Washchyshyn and Sean Zak.
"My phone started exploding. Calls from everyone—from family and friends and business associates to a couple of legends of the game. People didn't know what was going on." – David Winkle, Dustin Johnson's agent
No one questioned Dustin Johnson's outsize talent in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Open, though questions still remained about whether he could close the deal at a major. Johnson had been oh-fer in his first 28 major appearances with a handful of notable flameouts, including at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Staring down a 12-foot eagle putt at the 72nd hole to win, Johnson three-putted, and Jordan Spieth was crowned champion. The brutal test that awaited at Oakmont seemed like a good fit for the long-hitting Johnson, but he hadn't exactly over-prepared for Oakmont's punitive rough and blazing-fast greens and what many consider to be the hardest golf course in the world.
AUSTIN JOHNSON (Dustin's brother and caddie): I played [Oakmont] with a member the week of Colonial [in late May]. I told [Dustin], "Hey, man, this golf course is really tough, like, some tricky greens, a few [difficult] lines off tees. We should get up there and see it." So we go up there, and it rains that night. The following morning he shoots five or six under and was like, Oh, yeah, this is a real hard golf course. [Laughs]
DUSTIN JOHNSON: First time seeing the course.
AUSTIN JOHNSON: And I thought I played pretty good. I shot 90. [Laughs]
DUSTIN JOHNSON: He kept telling me about all these places he was hitting it. I'm like, Gee, you suck.
More rain is forecast for Open week and rain it does, heavily at times. Several delays over the first two days spill the second round into Saturday, making it difficult to decipher the leader board. This much is evident: Johnson is playing well. After rounds of 67 and 69, he is at four under. When the second round finally concludes at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Johnson has a one-shot lead. The third round starts an hour later, and after play is suspended by darkness, Irishman Shane Lowry has the lead at five under, through 14 holes. Johnson is three back through 13.
DAVID WINKLE (Johnson's agent): He had to be at the golf course no later than 6 on Sunday morning. So I left my hotel about 5. I was real curious, knowing he had those five holes left to play. I thought, He can't afford to be the least bit out of it and still partially asleep, because these are five critically important holes. He couldn't win the golf tournament, but if he made two or three bogeys he could almost put himself out of it. I'll never forget, he came with this big stride over the bridge onto the driving range super-relaxed. I don't think he missed a shot in those five holes.
Still, by the end of the third round, Johnson has lost another shot to Lowry. In the final round, all but one of the protagonists (Jim Furyk) would come from the last four pairings:
3 p.m.: Scott Piercy (even), Sergio Garcia (even)
3:10 p.m.: Brandon Grace (one under), Daniel Summerhays (two under)
3:20 p.m.: Lee Westwood (two under), Dustin Johnson (three under)
3:30 p.m.: Andrew Landry (three under), Shane Lowry (seven under)
MARK LOOMIS (Fox Sports golf coordinating producer): It looked like the championship depended on what Shane Lowry did. If he had a great round, it was probably going to be his. But if he didn't, you weren't really sure who was going to make the charge. There were a lot of people up there who were great players but who hadn't won a major championship.
CURTIS STRANGE (two-time U.S. Open champion and Fox Sports analyst): My assignment for Sunday was to walk with the last group of the day, Shane Lowry and Andrew Landry. … I never saw somebody so agitated, warming up for the fourth round of a major when they were in it, as I did with Shane on that Sunday afternoon. He was slamming clubs and was very frustrated. And I recognized it because I've been there.
Lowry bogeys the 2nd, pars the 3rd, then lips out for birdie on the 4th. At six under, he is still four clear of Garcia and Piercy. Grace and Furyk are five off the lead. Ahead of Lowry, in the 5th fairway, is his closest competitor, Johnson, who thanks to a birdie at the 4th has pulled within two. From 104 yards, he sticks his approach and saunters toward the green.
DAVID FAY (former USGA executive director and rules analyst for Fox Sports): On Sunday morning, I was watching from the booth, and [French golfer] Romain Wattel's ball moved on the 2nd green. It looked like he caused the ball to move and there was going to be a penalty. It appeared that it was going to be an issue. But the official with that group, Lew Blakey, is one of the best there is. And he was right on the case and he gave a decision right away. He said something to the effect of, "Well, the wind was blowing in such and such a direction and with the slope of the green … there was no way he was going to assess a penalty." I remember saying after that, "Well, fellas, now at least you have template for how this should be handled in the unlikely event that anything like this happens later in the day."
ACT I: THE 5TH GREEN
After Westwood lips out for bogey—ballooning to five over for his round and one over for the tournament—Johnson sizes up his short putt for par. He looks at the hole, shuffles his feet, looks at the hole again, then takes two quick practice strokes. He hovers his putter behind the ball. Then he freezes. He indicates his ball had moved.
JOHN BODENHAMER (USGA's senior managing director, Championships and Governance): My main job that week was to help Mike [Davis, the USGA's executive director] with course set-up. Sunday afternoon, I went out with [rules officials] Stu Francis and Mark Newell with Dustin and Lee. Mark was the referee. Mark is one of our best. We have a long-standing tradition, for decades now, of putting some of our best rules officials in the final groups of our championships. … So in that last group, Stu and I were observers. Part of our protocol is to be quite a distance from the players. We don't want to distract them. On 5, the three of us were at the back of the green, by the grandstand. I happened to be looking at Lee, who had just missed a short putt and was a little agitated. And then I turned to look at Dustin, who was looking at his ball. And he kind of looked over at us and I said to Mark, "Dustin needs you."
"I didn't address it," Johnson says to Austin and Westwood as he backs off.
Seconds later, Newell approaches.
"My ball, before my putter was in the air—it was inside the ball and rolled that much," Johnson says, raising his left arm and gesturing toward the hole. Newell listens intently, hands on hips. The shadows of the two men stretch toward the cup. (A microphone at the bottom of the cup picks up the conversation.)
"O.K., you hadn't, you didn't draw the club or anything?" Newell asks.
"Nope," Johnson replies.
"It just moved?"
"O.K., you just play it from where it lies then," Newell says. "O.K.?"
As Johnson crouches over his putt, Joe Buck, the lead announcer for Fox, brings Fay onto the telecast to expound on what had happened.
"Well, there's a case that, thankfully, now in 2016 when a ball moves after address that players no longer automatically consider to have caused it to move," Fay explains, as Johnson holes out for par. "In this case, it moved either because of gravity or possibly wind, and the official said no penalty."
LOOMIS: We had the good fortune of being there live for it and having a microphone in the hole. I think those two things simplified it for us. If you look back at the video, at the time it seemed like everybody agreed that he hadn't caused the ball to move.
BODENHAMER: It seemed like a pretty straightforward situation at the time. Mark walked back to Stu and I could sort of deduce what had happened. I said, "New location?" And he said, "Yes." And all that means was that the ball had moved and that Mark had decided that Dustin had not caused that ball to move. Based on what Mark knew at that time, Dustin had not caused that ball to move. He asked all the right questions. It was probably a half-hour later until we knew there was more going on, that there was some discussion about a video review of what happened on 5.
WINKLE: I decided to watch the last round on TV. And I found a little meeting room in the middle of the locker room that didn't get a lot of traffic. There was a big table and some comfy chairs and a great TV. About the time that happened, the TV was turned down quite a bit, so I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I knew there was some kind of a controversy. Just minutes later my phone started exploding. Calls from everyone—from family and friends and business associates to a couple of legends of the game. People didn't know what was going on.
JACK NICKLAUS, speaking to a small group of reporters on Sunday evening: In my opinion, golf is a game of honor. That's what the USGA believes in, and that's what most of the players all believe in. And when you have a situation where the official was there and said, "Did you cause it to move?" and he says, "No," then that should be the end of the story. How's he supposed to know what caused it to move? You've got greens out there with spike marks and pitches. The ball can move at any time.
Johnson walks to the 6th tee with Fox's TV cameras close behind. He pars the next three holes, then birdies the 9th to go out in two under and grab a share of the lead with Lowry, at five under.
LOOMIS: In the midst of all this, about when Dustin was playing the 9th hole, I heard somebody say something to the effect of, "Hey, the USGA might be looking closer into the Dustin Johnson par on 5." But there was no way to verify it. And nobody was saying to me that they were going to do anything. I just remembered that in the back of my head.
BODENHAMER: I believe we were on the 9th green [when] we were given a handheld device to look at the video for the first time. Our staff had already determined that they would have a discussion with Dustin when he came in. But then it was determined that we should have a discussion with Dustin as soon as we could, but at a time when it would be least obtrusive to Dustin.
Lowry bogeys the 9th to fall a shot behind Johnson. Garcia and Piercy are at two under. Well ahead of the final groups, Furyk is making a run. The 2003 U.S. Open champ birdies five of the first 17 holes, but he closes with a bogey, his only blemish of the round. Still, after signing for a 66, he is the clubhouse leader, at one under.
FURYK: I thought there was a chance [that one under wins], but in my heart, I thought I was probably going to come up just short.
ACT II: THE 12TH TEE
Lowry makes another bogey at the par-4 10th. Johnson's lead is now two.
ALAN SHIPNUCK (Sports Illustrated senior writer): The 12th tee comes right up to the clubhouse, so I wanted to watch Dustin hit some shots. I wandered out there, because at that point he's leading by two and clearly playing the best golf, and he seems like he's going be the guy to do it. I got there a few minutes ahead of him, and there was just a weird energy on the tee. All these USGA officials were standing around, and it seemed like there were extra camera guys.
BODENHAMER: On the 12th tee, [the USGA's top rules officials] Jeff Hall and Thomas Pagel spoke with Dustin. I was there, and we heard Dustin push back. Dustin's position was that he did not cause that ball to move. And we decided, in fairness to Dustin, that we'd review it with him again when he came in, out of the sun, in a calmer setting. We're golfers, too. We root for these great players. Especially Dustin Johnson. He's such a great guy. He's a wonderful person. But whether it's Dustin or a qualifier from Poughkeepsie, our intention is to be thoughtful to the player. We didn't think it could be done out there on 12, in front of that audience, and that's why we decided we'd wait.
WESTWOOD: I thought, You make a ruling, it's done. Then to make him play from the 12th tee in not knowing what his score was and everybody else not knowing what his score was, I felt it was a bit strange and, possibly, not fair to him.
SHIPNUCK: It was confusing. You couldn't really hear what was being said, but you could tell from the body language and the fact that there were a bunch of USGA guys around Johnson that it wasn't good. It's just a bad feeling, that uncertainty. Not knowing what's going to happen, how it's going to play out. It was unsettling, and it plunged the whole tournament into chaos.
FAY: I think you could ask 10 of the top rules officials in golf about Dustin's ball and some would say he should have gotten a penalty and some would say that he shouldn't. Inevitably there would be disagreement. The problem was the delay. The idea in the past always was, you notify the player as soon as you can. The television replay area, the Fox compound, was not far away. It was not like it was in Altoona.
LOOMIS: When I saw Jeff Hall talking to Dustin Johnson, I remembered that [chatter about how he might be penalized]. I said, "Let's go up there. Quickly. Because something must be going on." If you listen to it again, David Fay said, "I'm speculating here, but here's what I'm guessing." I think we were all thinking that based on the fact that Jeff Hall was talking to Dustin Johnson [there would be a penalty]. Why else would he be?
JORDAN SPIETH, speaking to reporters later that month at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: I promise you, I would have thrown a fit. I wouldn't have hit another shot. I would have sat there like, This is not the way this goes. Let's figure this out right now.
STRANGE: Most people were already rooting for Dustin, because of how he lost at Chambers Bay the year before and everything else that has happened to him. But now everybody is rooting for him. You could feel it. People were like, This poor soul has had such a tough history and now another one might be taken from him.
WINKLE: Well, jokingly, as we say, it wouldn't be a last round of a major without a little adversity or controversy for Dustin. But again, not to sound corny, but I had such a peacefulness about me that week. I just felt like he was in such control of his game. And you can't control anything anybody else is doing. I just felt so good about the way he was playing, to the point where his trainer, Joey [Diovisalvi], turned to me and said, "Are you O.K.?" And I said, "Yeah, Joey. What do you mean?" And he said, "You're way too calm for what's going on right now."
Johnson rips his tee shot at the par-5 12th. At five under, he is two clear of Lowry and three ahead of Garcia and Piercy.
DUSTIN JOHNSON: I know this golf course. It's very difficult, and it's very difficult to close. From 12 to 18, all I was trying to do was just hit one shot at a time and not worry about what anybody else was doing. I kept telling myself, It's just me and the golf course. I'm just playing the golf course today.
AUSTIN JOHNSON: I was pretty heated, but I tried not to show it. I told Dustin, "Nothing we can do about it. It's out of our control. Let's keep playing solid golf, and everything will take care of itself." We tried not to think about it. He had the lead. Last thing we wanted was to let that interfere. He was playing great.
Strange reports on the telecast that the rest of the field has been notified of Johnson's potential rules infraction.
GARCIA, speaking to reporters after the round: They mentioned on the 15th tee, the USGA, the woman that was the rules official following us, said, "You know, there's a possibility that Dustin might get a penalty shot." It was nice to know. I thought that that was great from them.
STRANGE: I saw Tom Pagel on 15 and I said, "Off the record, what's going on here?" And he said, "I can't say." And I felt that if they knew they were going to give Dustin the one-shot penalty they should have done it already. But we were in a gray area.
ACT III: THE REACTION
LOOMIS: Here's the one thing that I think maybe we carried over from Chambers [Bay and the 2015 U.S. Open]. When you get in those production trucks, you are in your own little cocoon. You're watching all the golf, and you're trying to keep up. But you've got to remember that there's a world of people out there commenting on what you're doing, commenting on the championship. One of the things we took from Chambers Bay was that with the players, there's a lot of social media chat while the U.S. Open is going on. [Fox Sports producer] Jeff Neubarth and [Fox Sports broadcaster and writer] Shane Bacon were in our truck. Shane is very active on social media. At the beginning of the week, I said to them, "You two are in charge of making sure that we're paying attention to what's going on in social media."
WINKLE: People were saying, "Wink, you have to see what's happening on social media. You ought to see some of the things being said and some of the people who are saying it. It's really cool to see how much support there is for Dustin right now."
STRANGE: You had the players tweeting and commenting, things like, "I wouldn't have hit another shot until they told me whether I'm going to get penalized or not." That's where this millennial generation is. And that's fine. I was probably a little more lippy than the generation before me. But if I would have said that to [longtime rules officials] P.J. Boatwright or Joe Dey, they would have said, "Thanks for participating. You are now disqualified." I can say that because one year at Augusta, I'm on the 13th green, and it's getting dark and I told P.J. I couldn't see and he said, "Play on." Those guys did not give a damn what you thought. They had a job to do.
LOOMIS: It became not only an event but also a news story at the same time. I always tell our announcers, "You're there because you've earned the right to have an opinion on what you're watching and what you're seeing and what you're thinking." So my instruction to them was to be fair and to be cognizant that there are two sides to every story, but to tell us what they thought. It's one of the reasons why we got Jeff Hall in the booth as fast as we could. We got the social media out there as fast as we could, so that we could tell all sides of the story and then have our people say what they felt. That's an important part of what we do. If we don't do that, I think we lose credibility quickly.
FURYK: From the 5th to the 12th hole, seven holes, that's an hour and a half of golf. I think the USGA had plenty of time to review that footage and to give [Johnson] an idea of whether that would be a penalty. One, they should have let him know a lot sooner. Two, I think that they need to make that decision while he's on the golf course. In talking to the USGA, I think what they said was a lot of the folks that are on the committee were on the golf course with different groups. That the committee didn't have a chance to discuss the situation and decide whether it would be a penalty until after the round. My guess is that practice will change. That practice should change. I'll say this–I don't believe that the same situation would have happened on the PGA Tour. I think that decision would have been made a lot sooner. And should have been.
WINKLE: I was pretty perplexed, because to me it was like what's to say if in the second quarter of an NBA Finals game, Stephen Curry gets what might have been a three. And they said, "You know, you stepped on the boundary line, we're going to take a look at it after the game and decide." I remember thinking how ludicrous that was, that I just felt like it was still critically important, not only for Dustin but for everybody in the field, that some type of a decision be made.
BODENHAMER: From 13 to 18, we were doing our job. We said, "Let's just remain in the moment and do our job here. Those in the clubhouse will do their job." There were other things happening. We talked about focusing on our job at hand.
ACT IV: THE FINISH
After tapping in for par on 12, Johnson is the (presumed) leader, at five under. Garcia, Lowry and Piercy are two back; Grace is three behind. Minutes later, Lowry birdies the 12th to climb back to four under and one off the lead. Furyk? He's on his way to the Allegheny County Airport.
FURYK: I had a lot of texts, lot of things coming in. My first call was to my dad, to just chat about the round and say hello. He told me about Dustin and how there was a question on the penalty. He goes, "I guarantee you, they're gonna penalize him." And he was kind of joking. He was like, Man, I wouldn't go to the airport just yet.
LOOMIS: I think we all felt like [a penalty] was likely to happen. But the simple question was, What do we put on the leader board? Do you take the shot off? My decision was that he hasn't officially been given the penalty, so I guess I can't take that shot off. Our guys kept saying, "Well, we think he's three ahead," or "We think he's one ahead," or "We think he's two ahead." It's like calling a football game and not knowing the score. We were trying to tell the story the best we could. You're trying to tell the story of the U.S. Open. I think they tried to do both. They tried to say, "Here's what's going on with that, but here's what's going on in total." When Shane Lowry finds out about Dustin Johnson, how's that going to affect Shane Lowry? You can't interview them at that moment, so you can only speculate.
Johnson bogeys the 14th and falls into a tie with Lowry, at four under. Piercy is a shot back, and Garcia is two under. Though he's no longer on the property, Furyk still holds the clubhouse lead.
FURYK: I remember there being eight to 12 guys at the airport, watching on TV. Anytime a bogey was made everyone would turn and look at me.
LOOMIS: One thing that Paul [Azinger, a Fox analyst] said was really prophetic. He said it on, like, the 14th hole. It was something like, "Hey, whatever. It happened. Whatever's going out there, now we'll find out who can deal with this the best." The ironic thing was that the guy who had had such a history of having things happen to him handled it better than anybody else did. He had to put everything else out of his mind and just play golf. If anyone could've said, "Woe is me," it was Dustin Johnson. He didn't.
Lowry bogeys the 14th hole, and Johnson again has the lead alone. It would be the first of three consecutive bogeys for the Irishman.
LOWRY, speaking to reporters later that month at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: At the time I didn't think it affected me, and I did my interviews afterwards and I said it didn't affect me at all, but when I look back on it, it did. I stood on the 16th tee, and to be fair, Billy Foster, who caddies for Lee [Westwood], went over to Dermot [Byrne, Lowry's caddie] as Dermot was walking off the 15th green and basically said to him that he doesn't think Dustin was going to be penalized. We then stood on the 16th tee and went, "Right, we're two behind," whereas we were only one behind.
DUSTIN JOHNSON: That whole week, I felt like we were just groovin'. No problems. Austin and I agreed on everything we were doing. When all that stuff happened, we just stuck to our game plan and kept executing.
WESTWOOD: He carried on with the mindset, I can't do anything about it. What will be will be. I've just got to play these last seven or six holes as I would normally.
At the par-3 16th, Johnson holes a 10-foot par putt to stay at four under. In the group ahead, Piercy had three-putted 16 to drop to two under.
SHIPNUCK: Upstairs in the clubhouse is where all the players' lockers were, and it was a great way to report the story. I was talking to people about the USGA, I was talking to people about Dustin, about Lowry, and of course there are TVs on so you can keep track of everything. I was pretty much the only reporter up there for an hour and a half or two, and I'm pretty sure when Dustin was on the 16th hole, I saw Mike Davis … He was getting ready for the [awards] presentation. As Davis was tying his tie and combing his hair, I was interrogating him. At that point he had not had a chance to really review the video. He couldn't even comment, to some degree. He said, "I've been talking to people on the radio, I've been on the golf course, I'm going to go look at it right now." That gave me insight into why the whole day was so chaotic.
On the drivable par-4 17th, Johnson hits his tee shot into the front bunker then two-putts for par to maintain his two-shot lead. Piercy, playing 18, is his closest pursuer, while Furyk, Grace and Lowry are at one under. At 18, Johnson blasts a drive and stuffs his approach to five feet, eliciting a roar from the crowd that all but shakes the property. Thanks to a Piercy bogey at the last, Johnson strolls toward the green with a three-shot lead. Or is it a two-shot lead?
LOOMIS: There was some real relief in a lot of ways that he was going to win no matter what happened. I think that was a good thing.
Walking down the 18th fairway, Westwood reaches out to congratulate Johnson. Behind the green, Johnson's fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, wipes away a tear while holding the couple's son, Tatum.
WESTWOOD: Only once he hit his approach close on 18 did I think he was going to win. I just said, "Well done." He kept his composure.
FURYK: He had to play basically that whole back nine in doubt. I don't know how he could have handled it any better.
AUSTIN JOHNSON: He was so focused. He came up to me on the 18th green, and he didn't even know how he stood. He hadn't looked at a scoreboard all day. I told him that he had a three-shot lead, and he just goes, "Oh, good." [Laughs]
Johnson lines up a putt that is about the same distance as the one he had on the 5th, this time for birdie. He drains it, pumps his right fist and embraces Austin. DJ has fired a Sunday 68 to finish five under for the tournament. He gives Westwood's caddie, Foster, a high five, picks up Tatum and kisses Paulina.
SHIPNUCK: I followed Dustin in when he had his powwow with the USGA guys. That was pretty tense. It was really crowded right inside that little scoring area in the locker room. A couple of reporters were trying to eavesdrop, and there were a lot of the entourages and agents. The only one who didn't seem that stressed out was Dustin.
BODENHAMER: We reviewed the video with Dustin and told him there would be a one-shot penalty. He was great. He said, "O.K." Of course, he had a multiple-shot lead. He went and signed his scorecard and went out and accepted the trophy.
FURYK: There's a lot of gray area in the rules. And that interpretation sometimes is very, very difficult. I've played tournament golf since I was 12 and have had a pretty firm grasp of the rules since I was 16. That's 31 years of playing golf with a pretty firm grasp of the rules, and I would have got that one wrong.
LOWRY: If Dustin really wanted to argue his case, he could have, and he might have got away with that penalty shot if he needed to. It would have been interesting to see if the two of us had have been tied or I would have won by one whether Dustin would have been penalized that shot. We might have had a different scenario.
Lowry pars 18 for a disappointing 76. He ties for second with Furyk and Piercy. The Irishman walks into the locker room where he finds his coach, Neil Manchip, packing up. They hug; Lowry cries.
On the Monday after the Open the USGA issues a 620-word statement about the rules incident that says, in part, "We regret the distraction."
BODENHAMER: The next day [after the Open], Mike Davis tasked me to review what had happened and to come up with proposals to make sure nothing like that happened again. We determined that it took us too long to make a decision, and we've remedied that. We've remedied how we mobilize our rules officials and how we review video evidence. In 17 days, we had a whole new line of procedures in place to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.
SHIPNUCK: The USGA would have never recovered if Dustin had this tournament taken away from him. I hope the blue coats say a little prayer every day for Dustin Johnson. As for DJ, this guy is more mentally tough than we give him credit for. He's taken so many punches to the solar plexus, and he just keeps coming back. I'm not sure how many players could have survived that. It made the victory that much sweeter.
LOOMIS: You can always do better [covering a tournament]. I think maybe the one thing I've talked to all our guys about is something so simple. On the leader board, why don't you just put an asterisk on top that says, Possible one-shot penalty. And maybe you have to explain it a little bit less. But I felt really good that we were continuing to get new information, and it became a news story in the middle of an event. And I felt like we documented it well. I don't think anybody went out of their way to be overly critical, or to not be critical. They just said what they felt. That's all you can ask of the guys in the booth. We felt good in the truck that we had told the story.
FURYK: I think [the USGA] learned a lot from the situation. And I think their practices will be different in the future. Some good will come out of it. Again, nothing changed the outcome of the tournament. And even though I finished second, I think it's a good thing. I don't think anything should change the outcome of the event. And I think Dustin deserved to win.
WINKLE: Mistakes are definitely made because there are humans handling all this stuff. But Dustin's never been one to hold a grudge about anything. Someone asked me what was the most gratifying part of Dustin finally getting his major. And I said, "Well, for obvious reasons I'm glad the monkey's off his back." And I'm glad that the dialogue around him will change a little.
The rules controversy that marred Johnson's first major win doesn't slow him down. Two weeks later he wins his next start, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, as well as the BMW Championship. The episode at Oakmont also triggers action in the halls of the game's governing bodies. In December, the USGA and R&A announce a new local rule that eliminates the penalty when a golfer accidentally moves a ball on the green. In February the ruling bodies go a step further, introducing a comprehensive proposal to simplify and modernize the Rules of Golf for 2019.
WESTWOOD: I think that's always the way, though, isn't it? Something has to happen before it gets a kick-start. Did the rule need changing? Yeah. There was always confusion with it. Did I cause the ball to move or didn't I? It needed to happen at one of the biggest tournaments to change the rule. They were probably thinking about it, and that really made their mind up for them.
STRANGE: It should have never have been a penalty. Because when you have greens that are 14 on the Stimpmeter, anything can cause that ball to move. You can be 15 feet away and cause that ball to move. That's why they changed the rule, and it's a good thing they did.
By virtue of his victory at Riviera in February, Johnson ascends to the top of the World Ranking. He proves worthy of the title, winning his next two starts, both of them WGC events.
WINKLE: Once Dustin got to No. 1 in the world, I was curious to see how he would handle it. That's a pretty important crown to be wearing. Some guys find that they're maybe not comfortable with the spotlight being that bright. Or some might have a letdown after they get to that lifelong goal. The next tournament we were together was the WGC down in Mexico City. I could tell that it was almost a sense of, "All right, I'm finally where I belong." You know? "This is where I should be." He posed for every selfie, and he signed every autograph request. I just watched the way he embraced it and wore it proudly. I got a feeling that he may be there for a while. And, of course, he won that week on a golf course that most people would say didn't really suit him. Then he went on to win in Austin. And I thought, Yep, here we go.
Not since Curtis Strange in 1989 has a U.S. Open champion successfully defended his title. Johnson is the prohibitive favorite next week at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills.