Dustin Johnson's bunker penalty opens question of whether players read local rules

Simple rules meeting before events would prevent more embarrassment

August 19, 2010

Maybe they should just hold meetings.

Get everybody in one room, pass out the sheet of local rules and go over it point by point. Allow time for questions. Offer two briefing times if that makes it easier on players. Heck, offer three. If a player can't be bothered to attend, send his caddie.

Hey, NASCAR does it. Two hours before each Sprint Cup race, every driver and crew chief is required to attend the drivers' meeting. Among the items reviewed are speed limits on pit road, top speed under caution periods and where pit road technically begins and ends.

Even with pleasantries, it all takes 45 minutes or less. No guesswork. No excuses.

It beats the chaos — and outside finger-pointing — that ensued after Dustin Johnson played his 72nd hole at Whistling Straits.

"Maybe I should have looked at the rule sheet a little harder," Johnson acknowledged after accepting the two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker probably no one expected to come into play.

Give Johnson credit. Any wrath he might have had for PGA of America officials never went public. That didn't stop fellow pros, though, from burning up Twitter on his behalf.

From Stuart Appleby: "Never seen patrons walking through bunkers in any other professional event (worldwide) try that at Augusta."

Peter Jacobsen: "If you can't manage the crowds and keep them out of bunkers, they become part of the course ... not a bunker!"

John Daly: "So, a sandbar off Lake Michigan (is) considered a bunker too if that's what they're sayin'."

Well, JD, there might be some white stakes out there to mark out-of-bounds, but you'd be free to ask that question in a meeting.

Whether that patch of sand should have been considered a bunker isn't the point. Every sport has a rule or two that folks might not like. The point is that the rule was in play, and competitors should have understood it.

The bunker interpretation, as we all know now, was the top item on a list of "supplementary rules" posted around the Whistling Straits locker room.

"I read the rule," asserted Bubba Watson, who lost to Martin Kaymer in the playoff. "I'm used to going off-track, so I need to know those rules."

Watson might be in the minority, though. Players all too often can be seen grabbing the sheet out of their lockers and quickly tossing it aside when they see it's not from their agent or equipment rep.

"Honestly, I don't think anyone reads the sheet," Nick Watney, Johnson's playing partner, told ESPN.com. "We've played hundreds of tournaments. We get a sheet every week."

Said Johnson: "I only look at it if I have a reason to, and I didn't see I had a reason to."

Until his title hopes were on the line. Then a 45-minute investment might have paid dividends.

jshain@tribune.com

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