After Further Review: USGA, Rules of Golf, in desperate need of common sense

What happened to Dustin Johnson on Sunday at the U.S. Open could have turned into one of the biggest travesties in the history of sports. Luckily for him and golf fans everywhere, it turned into one of the greatest triumphs.

It was unanimous from fans, other players, and the media that the USGA handled the rules infraction in question very poorly. The support for Dustin and the ripping of the USGA poured in on social media. This is just a very small sample:

I respect the Rules of Golf and the fact they are in place to maintain the integrity of the game. In many cases we as players can use the rules to our advantage. However, in some situations, such as Sunday at the U.S. Open, they can make the game unbearably painful.

The events which ensued on Sunday afternoon shed some light on how brutal the Rules of Golf can be under completely innocent circumstances. It became clear that the rules and the people governing them are in desperate need of a common sense injection.

Dustin Johnson clearly had no intent to cause his golf ball to move while going through his putting routine on the 5th green. He was going through his normal routine which involved soling his putter beside the ball and making some practice strokes, which is a fairly typical routine for any golfer. The likelihood that these actions caused his ball to move backwards is highly unlikely.

Even if Dustin Johnson did accidentally cause his ball to move, it’s ridiculous that he should be penalized a stroke when he recognized it happened and notified his group and the rules official before proceeding. He would have been more than happy to replace the ball and carry on. Why the need for a penalty stroke? In this instance, how does this rule protect the integrity of the game, the player, or the field? It doesn’t. It makes the game appear cruel, nit-picky and unapproachable.

When this rule is applied, common sense should be utilized and intent of the player considered. Dustin clearly had no intent to gain an advantage. When he noticed the ball move, he made no attempt to cover it up or ignore it, and he did all the right things afterwards to maintain his integrity and the integrity of the tournament.

Dustin didn’t believe he caused the ball to move, the players in his group agreed, and the USGA rules official told him to carry on without penalty and play the ball as-is. That all seemed reasonable, until two other USGA turkeys decided they wanted some airtime and reviewed the “incident” further, yet weren’t going to make a final decision until the round was over. By doing this, they not only undermined their own on-course rules official, but questioned the integrity and judgement of Dustin Johnson.

Oh yeah, and what about Rule 34-2 of the USGA Rules of Golf?


34-2. Referee’s Decision

If a referee has been appointed by the Committee, his decision is final.


In the process, the USGA officials brewed up a dark cloud over the back 9 of the tournament, leaving doubt in everyone’s mind as to what the leading score might be as word spread that Johnson may or may not be penalized one stroke. At the very least, it was unfair to both Dustin and his competitor’s to introduce that level of doubt in where they stood in the championship. The actions of the USGA hurt the integrity of the tournament far more than any rules infraction in question at that point.

At the end of the day, Dustin had the best seat in the house to see what happened, and was therefore the most qualified to determine whether he was the cause of the ball moving or not. Yet, the USGA overturned his judgement and the call made by THEIR OWN rules official appointed to that group.

The USGA continues to demonstrate that they simply don’t trust golfers. They claim they want to “grow the game” yet so many of their actions contradict that statement. It is time for them to take a hard look at their actions, the Rules of Golf, and how incorporating a little common sense into both of those could make golf a more enjoyable game for everyone.

10 thoughts on “After Further Review: USGA, Rules of Golf, in desperate need of common sense

    1. Thanks, Jim. It was disappointing that it was handled in that manner, but I’m glad the guy who deserved the trophy the most still ended up with it.


  1. Josh, great perspective. These knuckleheads at the USGA erred in so many ways on this one, but the biggest complaint I have is the uneven application of the rules. On #9, DJ asked and was granted line of sight relief from an immovable obstruction by an on course official. This type of ruling was probably made several times during the tournament and capably so. The problem is that only DJ and the leaders were subject to video review, not the balance of the field. The solve is easy. Remove video review, don’t let TV fans call in with observed rules violations, require all decisions be made by the competitors or on course officials. Live with incorrect calls because we are human beings. Will they try that? I doubt it 🙂

    Thanks for the great summary!


    1. Hey Brian,

      Great point about the entire field not being subject to the same review and scrutiny as the leaders. I had this same issue when Tiger was playing since every little thing he did was under a microscope so he was held to a different standard than the rest of the field. Same thing happens now with the final groups of a major.

      I hate video review in golf and totally agree that we should let the players and on course officials make the calls on the course, on the spot, and those calls stand. Thanks for the added perspective!


  2. Aloha Josh,

    Another great post.

    I didn’t see this, I was out playing. But did some usga officials really say that they would decide AFTER the round? If so, how arrogant can they get?

    A Hui Hou,

    1. Aloha Wayne,

      Thanks buddy. Yes, this wasn’t a joke, that is actually what they did. It was a bit of a circus, but the best player that week still hoisted the trophy, fortunately.


  3. Well presented, Josh
    This could have been WAY worse yet still represents a blight on the game. I’m not sure about impact around growing the game as I saw on Twitter on Sunday but it was, as Rory said, very ‘amateur’ of the USGA and does speak for some clarity and common sense. Also, really took away from a great tournament.
    Thanks, Mike.

    1. Thanks, Mike. It definitely could have been worse. In the end, the right guy had the trophy so at least the tournament still rewarded the best player in the field that week. I hope this will spark some changes and clarity to the rules.


Let Us Know What You Think