PGA Tour Confidential: Dustin Johnson’s bunker penalty, Kaymer’s win, Tiger, Phil and more

August 16, 2010

Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Dustin Johnson was penalized two shots for grounding his club in a messy bunker in the rough where fans were walking on the 72nd hole. The penalty kept him out of a playoff. Is this a bad rule? Should the bunkers have been declared waste areas? (They originally were in the ’04 PGA but then officials changed their minds before the tourney, leading to a penalty for Stuart Appleby.) I don’t see how bunkers that spectators have frolicked in, which are unraked and unkept, should be considered bunkers. They’re waste areas. Your thoughts?

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree that those bunkers SHOULDN’T be considered bunkers — not after families have sat in them and children have built sand castles in them — but the players were told at the beginning of the week that they were legitimate bunkers and they couldn’t ground a club in them. Horrible break for Johnson, but he simply screwed up.

Van Sickle: John is right. Every player knew those bunkers would be an issue before the week began. It was imperative to check on that rule and be prepared. Dustin Johnson should’ve known that rule.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I agree with Gary that some of those bunkers should have been waste areas. Definitely a flaw in Pete Dye’s Whistling Straits design. Who needs all those dinky bunkers? Declaring that they were all bunkers and not waste areas was a cop-out by the PGA.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I wondered about those bunkers all week. They look like divots taken by giants. Ridiculous. Why?

Garrity: It seems like a cop-out, but I don’t know where they could have drawn the line. Many of those bunkers have gallery ropes running right down the middle of them. One side was raked, the other side looked like the beach at Coney Island on the Fourth of July.

Herre: Maybe some of the bunkers simply need to be filled in.

David Dusek, deputy editor, The fact that a player can’t tell that a bare patch, surrounded by fans standing in sand, is a bunker should be all the proof needed to get some of the “bunkers” removed.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It should have been marked a waste area, yes. But it wasn’t. And the players are responsible to know the difference.

Garrity: Dustin was totally focused on the situation and the shot. His lie looked like one of those sandy/hardpan lies you get on a lot of munis. I totally accept that he didn’t think he was in a bunker. I mean, where else on tour do you have spectators standing in bunkers?

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: All the groups have rules officials with them. The PGA of America was careful at the beginning of the week to let players know the ruling on these bunkers. It’s unfortunate, but as Dustin just said to Feherty, “I guess I should have looked at my rules sheet more closely.” Too bad for golf.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I agree. And his caddie has to help him there. The guy gave him a club and disappeared down the hill.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Caddies always get blamed. Always. Yes, the caddie could’ve spoken up, but the burden ultimately falls on the player. Remember, caddies are supposed to show up, keep up and shut up.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Sports Illustrated: Plenty of blame to go around. Seems like maybe one fan would’ve said, “Hey, I think I’m standing in a bunker.”

Godich: I bet they walked up to the ball, saw the lie and thought, “What a break. Considering where we hit it, we couldn’t have asked for a better lie.”

Evans: No one else broke the rule all week. What does that say?

Van Sickle: No one else broke the rule all week… that we know of. TV cameras weren’t watching everybody.

Dusek: I’d bet a lot of money that some players unknowingly did the exact same thing. But since they weren’t on the cusp of winning a major, with the whole world watching, nothing happened.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Back to the idea that Johnson should’ve known the rule. As he said, it never crossed his mind that it was a bunker. You just couldn’t see it. Even if he had the rule tattooed on his forehead, it wouldn’t have helped because he couldn’t tell it was a “bunker.”

Hanger: That’s why I’m not convinced it was a bunker. They’ve been saying all week that no one even knows for sure how many bunkers are on this course — they’ve tried to count them but haven’t been able to do it. If that’s the case, and I’m Dustin Johnson, I’m protesting until someone shows me a course map that clearly identifies a bunker in that exact spot. David Feherty was standing on that exact spot after the fact and he wasn’t sure it was a trap.

Godich: There was a pretty good sized lip to the right. Feherty said it best.

Dusek: But with fans surrounding him, could Johnson see that lip? People were 10 deep around him in every direction.

Godich: Probably not. As said I before: 1. The caddie has to help him there. 2. I think he was stunned to see he had drawn such a good lie. The fact that he might have been in a bunker never crossed his mind.

Bamberger: Whenever a player’s ball is sitting on sand, the alarms should go off. But it was mayhem, and he was playing for a major title.

Van Sickle: The shame of this incident is, it’s going to overshadow the playoff and the winner. Much like the Roberto de Vicenzo scorecard incident or the imperfect perfect game this season. Are you going to remember Kaymer or Bubba? Or will you remember D.J. and the bunker? I think the latter.

Garrity: I’m going to remember David Feherty. I liked his line about how it might have been a bunker at the beginning of the week, but it wasn’t one now.

Evans: He said it looked like a manger.

Bamberger: The course is so unnatural that the players can’t tell the hazards from the playing surfaces. I know everybody seems to love this course, but when it’s all said and done, and I know I’m repeating myself here, it represents all that’s wrong with modern design. Obscenely expensive and unplayable for us — or me, anyway.

Lipsey: One thing’s for sure: We’ll remember Johnson and the ruling more than the winner.

Godich: That was a pretty classy interview Johnson gave on TV right afterward. You have to admire how he handled it.

Dusek: That’s Johnson falling on the sword for the PGA. He’s taking the high road. Sunday was a classic, filled with drama and great shots, and the ruling against Johnson is going to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth about it. The PGA is coming back in five years for another championship, and it goes without saying it will change the rule.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Can you imagine if Johnson had made that last putt on 18 and raised his arms in victory? That’s about the only way this ruling could’ve hurt worse than it already does.

Van Sickle: Martin Kaymer wins his first major. Bubba Watson contends and makes a game showing. Which player impressed you more and why?

Evans: Bubba is awesome. Kaymer is a few notches below his countrymen, Bernhard Langer, in the charisma category. That’s tough to do.

Bamberger: Bubba. Love what he said about Ryder Cup play. Never heard such a selfless thing from a young player at such a heartbreaking time.

Gorant: I don’t know. I thought he was almost too casual about it. Considering where he is in his career, losing that major should have hit him a bit harder than he made it seem like it did.

Evans: Bubba almost has too much perspective. Talk to him a little and he will let you know that he wants to make a lot of money out here and play in some Ryder Cups. If he wins, he wins, but as long as he’s got his card, he’s good — he’s old-school in that way.

Dusek: Dealing with a father who has cancer and a wife who had a cancer scare recently can put golf, and a lot of things, in perspective.

Evans: Yes, but he had this perspective in his rookie year when he told me that he might play in some Hooter Tour events on an off week to make some cash if he didn’t get into a tour field.

Garrity: Nobody should be surprised by Kaymer’s win. Nick Faldo took him along to the last Ryder Cup at Valhalla, even though he hadn’t made the team, because Faldo expects him to play for Europe for a couple of decades.

Dusek: Kaymer has steadily been lifting his game, but Bubba Watson is riding a serious hot streak. Watson’s self-belief, and huge game, could be the start of something great.

Herre: Kaymer. He played smart and steady down the stretch and in the playoff. Very impressive.

Lipsey: Both guys are super fun in very different ways: a grip-it-and-rip-it bomber and a lethal assassin robo-golfer. Both should be making headlines for a long time.

Gorant: Overall Kaymer showed he’s got the stuff, but I was surprised/impressed that Bubba didn’t blow up down the stretch, as he has seemed to do in the past.

Godich: I’ll go with Bubba, too. Yeah, he hits it a mile, but he’s got more game than that. I also loved the way he handled the interview, though his comment about the six-iron that found the water was a bit baffling. Did he really think that ball had a chance to get to the green?

Evans: He thought he was going to catch a flyer.

Van Sickle: Exactly, Farrell.

Godich: He also said that he thought the ball was going to find the green when it was in the air.

Evans: Maybe he’s a little delusional about that one.

Van Sickle: Bubba has a kind of Tin Cup thing going on. Self taught, an odd swing with moving parts, swinging legs, happy feet. But he works. And like John Daly, he’s got a lot more touch around the greens than you’d expect. A pretty game showing here. He might just make some history in this game. I wouldn’t have said that a week ago. I’m impressed.

Garrity: For the first time in a while, I’m buzzed about a first-time winner — and the guys who fell just short, as well. Oosthuizen’s win at St. Andrews struck me as a one-off, but this is the first major where we saw the next generation of stars really take over.

Van Sickle: I’m with John. I’m not sure this doesn’t top Phil and Amy at the Masters for tension and excitement and hope. It’s close, at least.

Bamberger: Maybe the PGA Championship will start getting the respect it deserves as the best of the four majors. In certain ways.

Gorant: Don’t think so. Still the fourth of four.

Godich: Sorry, but the PGA Championship lost a lot of its charm when it started taking spots away from the club professionals and giving invitations to journeymen Tour pros who have no shot at contending.

Lipsey: The PGA always delivers. Other majors are hit and miss.

Gorant: Delivers the most one-time fluky major winners and the most ridiculous weather, if that’s what you mean.

Van Sickle: Tiger Woods didn’t get into contention. He may or may not have found a new coach. Was this week a step forward for Tiger? Is he making progress? And how important was it that he made the cut and qualified at least for the first round of the FedEx Cup series?

Herre: I thought it was more wheel-spinning for Woods. He was in and out all four days — no consistency. He still has a ways to go.

Garrity: I suppose it’s one small step forward for Tiger. He played much better than he played at the Bridgestone, and he seems to have found a new swing coach.

Godich: It was more of the same inconsistency for me. He was three under after four holes, finished two under. That pretty much says it all.

Dusek: He may not say it anytime soon, but Foley is clearly his swing coach now. When Tiger went to the range on Saturday to warm up for his third round, Foley was two minutes behind him. Where Tiger went, Foley went. Clearly Tiger’s game was better than it was at Firestone, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

Morfit: Tiger has loads to play for, even though he went another year without a major. He made big strides for sure, and hit a lot of much more quality shots. I think he’s on the right track, and I no longer think he’d be an insane captain’s pick as I did seven days ago. Seemed like a different guy.

Ritter: I walked in Tiger’s wake for his entire round on Thursday, and his old, trademark intensity was there. His game just couldn’t match it.

Van Sickle: Maybe I read too much into it, but the fact that Tiger had someone helping him and the fact that he seemed more intense than last week gave me the impression that he’s fired up about trying to get his game back in order. I think it was a big step for him this week even though he didn’t get much in the way of results. And as we’ve already surmised, his return to golf’s summit will be a long, slow process, if he’s able to achieve it at all.

Godich: The embarrassment at Firestone was no doubt a big motivation for Tiger.

Gorant: Compared to last week, it has to be a step forward, but TW didn’t look like he was hitting his full array of shots, just trying to do one thing well (a soft fade) for the most part. Don’t think we’ll know until we see him again. If he isn’t getting better it may be the last time we see him on Tour this year.

Bamberger: He’s making huge progress. The golfing public is rooting for him again. Golf seems meaningful to him. I wondered if it might ever be again, given what he’s done to his family life. But I’m starting to think that competing at golf is still vital to him. That wasn’t a given in the spring.

Evans: Tiger is inconsistent in all aspects of his game. At times it looks like he’s making improvements, but at others he seems to fall back into the Hank Haney swing funk. He’ll make progress in December and early January but not as long as he’s playing tournament golf. From where he’s sitting in the FedEx standings, he would have to win all the tournaments to win the thing. He’ll be going through the motions at Ridgewood.

Van Sickle: I disagree about Tiger going through the motions at Ridgewood. He’s going to try his ass off. This is exactly the kind of challenge he loves. He’s got to play well to advance to the next stage. Sure, he doesn’t ‘ultimately care that much about the FedEx Cup money, but it’s a stage for him to test himself and push himself, even if his game may not be ready. And there’s the Ryder Cup on the horizon, too.

Bamberger: I agree with you, Gary. Golf is still the thing in life he can, presumably, do well. Everybody likes to be good at something.

Dusek: Tiger has not been in a position where he needs to play well in order to qualify for something since he turned pro and was playing for a PGA Tour card. I don’t know if he’ll play well at Ridgewood, but I think he’ll try like hell.

Garrity: I still can’t figure out why his head has been bouncing around so much in recent years. Stevie kept doing that club-handle-on-the-cap routine on the range, which helped some. But Tiger still dips four or five inches going back and bobs up again on the follow through.

Evans: It’s his spine angle at address and in the takeaway. He has to move his head like that to try to stay on plane.

Van Sickle: Here’s your chance to vote; Is Phil Mickelson ever going to get to No. 1 in the world rankings, no matter how badly Tiger plays? Your take on Phil, who made a nice meaningless charge on Sunday for a backdoor top-12 finish.

Bamberger: I say Phil gets to No. 1 before the end of the year, and that it means more to us than to him, unless he has a Callaway incentive program I don’t know about. It’s just a computer talking; that’s Phil’s take.

Dusek: I think Michael nailed it. He’ll get the No. 1 ranking, he’ll say that it’s cool, and then he’ll go have a tofu burger and hang out with his kids.

Van Sickle: His performance so far in August makes me wonder whether Phil is going to be a factor in either the FedEx Cup series or the Ryder Cup.
He doesn’t seem to be able to get it together, either, and the revelation about his troubles with arthritis doesn’t bode well for his career in his 40s.

Herre: Phil might relish the role of elder statesman in the Ryder Cup, but the FedEx Cup is wide open, same as the last three majors.

Bamberger: Phil’s game, as we all know, comes and goes like the wind.

Godich: Do we think he takes anything positive away from his 67 today?

Garrity: Phil sounded pretty chipper after shooting 67 today. He said he’s feeling absolutely normal now, the meds having kicked in. We’ll just have to wait and see. If he has days where he can’t roll over in bed, you’re right. That won’t bode well for his career.

Gorant: He sounded pretty excited about it after the round. That has to be a good sign.

Dusek: Not really. It was totally meaningless to the outcome of the event and there was zero pressure on him. Every flag was a green light today.

Van Sickle: Somehow it seemed like the losing team scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to cut the final score to 63-38.

Van Sickle: I’m predicting Whistling Straits will ultimately creep into the top 10 on all the top 100 course lists because of its dramatic scenery, like Pebble. Especially with another PGA and a Ryder Cup to come. We know Bamberger thinks it’s modern rubbish, but you have to admit, it sure looks good on TV. Really good. Your thoughts on the Straits?

Bamberger: You build a course that looks spectacular on TV and challenges the best players, so naturally it gets on TV. Once it’s on TV, everybody with an AmEx card wants to go play it, and because they’ve shelled out so much they don’t want to admit that it’s impossible to play, and the myth perpetuates itself. Genius.

Morfit: I haven’t liked this place from the moment I first saw it in ’04. It’s unwalkable for fans and media. You look at St. Andrews and think, Ah, the history. You look at this place and think, Ah, the checkbook. In a way it’s fitting that it came down to a contrived bunker/non-bunker that was built to be a sand trap but not really look like one. Classic over-design.

Garrity: I agree with Michael’s critique of what I call the Gilded Age of Golf Course Design. These tracks cost too much to build and maintain, and they’re way too hard for weekend golfers to play. But I think it’s fine to have a few over-the-top tracks around for the pros to play on TV. Whistling Straits is flat-out gorgeous, and it’s a treat just to walk it. Assuming, of course, you don’t break an ankle on those slippery dunes.

Evans: Whistling Straits is a great resort course. We shouldn’t try to put it up against Pine Valley or Seminole or Augusta National. It is what it is: a big golf course with spectacular views, a lot of sand and links pretensions.

Gorant: Definitely an eye-catcher on TV. Thought it was interesting that starting today you had bombers (D. Johnson, McIlroy, etc.) on the leaderboard along with ballstrikers (Furyk, Z. Johnson, Elkington). That’s usually a sign of a pretty good venue.

Dusek: It’s unique, made-for-HD, and has produced a lot of drama, so the PGA of America should be happy it hosts the PGA Championship in five years and a Ryder Cup in 2020. But if I were going to play it, I’d need to steal a few dozen balls from the SI giveaway closet. The fescue is nuts in some areas.

Van Sickle: Whistling Straits is a video game come to life. Bigger than life. Spectacular. Made for TV. I actually enjoyed playing it. Wouldn’t want to play it 40 times a year, though.