No relief: Players are warned in urinals over Whistling Straits bunkers to avoid 'a Dustin'
In their desire to avoid any player doing “a Dustin” here at the US PGA Championship, and so repeating what David Feherty has labelled “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in major history”, the organisers have even taken to posting notices about the controversial local rule about Whistling Straits’ bunkers above the urinals in the players’ locker room.
The jokes about “taking relief” are obvious, although not everyone here thinks it is a laughing matter. Feherty, for one, believes that the Professional Golfers’ Association of America’s insistence on classing as “bunkers” every waste area on the mass of man-made dunes otherwise known as Whistling Straits – whether inside or outside the ropes, whether raked or unraked, whether fans are standing in them or not – verges way beyond the absurd.
There are more than 1,000 “bunkers” on the Pete Dye layout and it says plenty concerning the indeterminate nature of so many of them that the exact figure is not known.
In short, Dustin Johnson’s misfortune here five years ago was an error waiting to happen. It was just his – and indeed the tournament’s – bad luck that it occurred on the 72nd hole of a major when he happened to be leading. And with the warning notices lining every wall it is impossible to escape the memory here this week.
In his role as CBS analyst, Feherty, a former Europe Ryder Cup player, had the perfect view of the farce in 2010. Johnson was one shot ahead of Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson playing the 18th when he sliced his drive way into the crowd. Feherty went scampering.
“I was the first one to get to the ball, except for the crowd that was spreading beer bottles all around it,” Feherty told the Golf Channel. “It was so not a bunker. I looked at it and didn’t look at it again and was thinking it was a pretty good lie. It was entirely the wrong decision and one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in major championship history. It was not then, nor has it ever been, a bunker.”
Johnson was similarly certain. The American did not pay it a second thought and grounded his club before hitting his approach. After making the bogey which he thought had taken him into a play-off, Johnson was approached by David Price, the game’s referee, who informed him they would view the videotapes and see if there had been an infringement. Ten minutes later Johnson was hit with a two-shot penalty and slid down to fifth place.
“Price goes up to him after he putts out and I’m thinking, ‘Does he want an autograph?’ ” Feherty said. “I had to get [Johnson] out of the shower to interview him. The whole thing was bizarre. I was in shock; I can’t imagine how poor Dustin felt. I felt sorry for him to have that yanked out from underneath him like that, it would have destroyed other players.”
Not that the others had too much sympathy. “There were notices up in the locker room, so if you’re paying attention, you should have been aware of it,” Rory McIlroy said. “And after what happened to Dustin, the players will be much more aware of what they can and cannot do in those sandy areas this time around.
“Even if it’s a sandy waste area where you can ground your club, I still feel very uncomfortable. I’ll always hover my club regardless, just to be on the safe side.”
There have been a few raised eyebrows at the wording on the notice, particularly when it states that “many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well as some of the bunkers inside the ropes, will likely include numerous footprints, trash and tyre tracks... such irregularities are part of the game and no free relief will be available”.
There is one problem with that. Players can pick up trash in bunkers without penalty, just as they can stones under “the movable obstructions” rule. The PGA of America has admitted that this is poorly worded and could lead to more confusion. But not from Johnson and not in that spot. “I promise you that won’t happen to me again,” Johnson said. And as if to make sure, that offending ‘bunker’ now has a hospitality unit on top of it.