SHEBOYGAN, WISCONSIN // Few things make a major golf championship more memorable than a play-off. This one will be remembered for the guy who was not there. Martin Kaymer's name is in the books as the winner of the US PGA Championship. But it is Dustin Johnson whose story will be the tournament's defining memory.
"I think it's very sad," Kaymer said. "I don't know what to say." Johnson was knocked out of Sunday's play-off because of a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker he figured for a footpath. A tiny patch of sand well behind the ropes on the 18th fairway that spectators had trampled over all week. A rule violation he never thought was at issue. "Never once did it cross my mind it was in a sand trap," Johnson said.
But rules are rules, and this one was posted for everyone to see, in the locker room and on tee boxes. "Honestly, I don't think anyone reads the sheets," said Nick Watney, Johnson's playing partner. "I mean, we've played in hundreds of tournaments, we get a sheet every week." Johnson readily acknowledged he had grounded his club. He did not even take officials up on their offer to go to the TV truck and study a high-resolution replay.
"I guess," Johnson said, "maybe I should have looked at the rules sheet a little harder." Whistling Straits is designed to mimic an old-style links course, with more bunkers than you can count - literally. Not even architect Pete Dye knows how many there are. Anytime the grounds crew trims the fescue, another emerges. The PGA of America decided in 2004 that every bunker is a hazard, no matter how many fans tromp through it, and the players had been reminded of it.
When the PGA Championship was at Whistling Straits six years ago, Stuart Appleby was assessed a four-stroke penalty for a similar violation. The PGA returns to Whistling Straits in 2015, and Appleby said on Sunday night on Twitter that changes must be made to the course "that has hundreds of pointless bunkers that patrons have to walk through to view players. Try that at Augusta". "I'm very ... angered that this is the way the 2010 US PGA came to an end," he said.
It was the cruellest end to a major since Roberto de Vicenzo signed for a higher score than he actually made in the 1968 Masters, which kept him out of a playoff against Bob Goalby. Until Sunday, Johnson had been known as the guy who melted down at the US Open. The 54-hole leader, he exploded for an 82 in the final round at Pebble Beach. But when he curled in a 12-footer for birdie on the 17th Sunday, he was the leader at the PGA, just minutes from redemption.
But his tee shot on 18 sailed into that bunker. He then missed a par putt that would have given him the victory and, as he and Watney walked off the green, was approached by a PGA rules official. Told he might have grounded his club in a bunker, Johnson's reaction was, "What bunker?" "I think I'm going to a play-off," Johnson said, "and I've got a two-stroke penalty." He and Watney sat in the scoring trailer for several minutes before Johnson took his pencil and began erasing. That five on 18 became a seven, and a three-way play-off was down to two men. Kaymer and Watson, meanwhile, were sitting in the locker room, unsure of what was happening.
"It's a sad, sad situation," Watson said. "It's going to be at least a week before he gets over it. He gets over the US Open, but this is different. It wasn't because of the golf, it's because of the rules. And rules are rules, but it's a sad situation." * Associated Press