Monday, June 27, 2016

Rules Nugget-Dustin Johnson’s one-stroke penalty at Oakmont

A number of my readers have written to ask why the USGA penalized Dustin Johnson (DJ) one stroke instead of two at the U.S. Open last week. For those of you who missed this, DJ grounded his putter alongside his ball on the green of the fifth hole, took two practice swings, moved his putter behind the ball, and immediately backed away when he saw the ball move. The referee ruled that DJ had not caused his ball to move, so DJ putted the ball from its new spot. The incident was reviewed by the Committee, and it was deemed that DJ, on the contrary, did cause his ball to move, and he was assessed a one-stroke penalty.

Ordinarily, if a player causes his ball to move, he incurs a one-stroke penalty and must replace the ball before he hits it; if he fails to replace the ball, the penalty increases to two strokes [Rule 18-2]. So the question remains: Why was DJ penalized only one stroke?

When a player receives a ruling from a referee, he must accept that ruling and play on. Rule 34-2 states that the decision of a referee is final, regardless of whether the decision is correct. However, while the player is obligated to follow the directions of a referee, the Committee has the right to change a referee’s ruling after reviewing the evidence. The USGA Committee reviewed the video and ruled that DJ was responsible for the movement of his ball.

So, why just a one-stroke penalty? When DJ putted his ball from its new position, he was following the instructions of a referee. Later, when the Committee decided that he had caused his ball to move –an infraction that incurred before the ruling from the referee– DJ incurred the one-stroke penalty for that violation. He did not incur the additional one-stroke penalty for not replacing his ball – a player is not penalized when he follows the instructions of a referee, even though the decision may be overruled by the Committee.

Please read Decision 34-3/7, which addresses this exact circumstance.


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