OAKMONT, PA. – Sunday at the U.S. Open was an illuminating day for golf.
First, and foremost, we learned that Dustin Johnson is not the star of some never-ending farce. He can break from the role for which he had been type-cast and play the dashing, victorious leading man.
And, while we were at it, we were reminded that the rules of golf exist as much to make itself feel morally superior as they do to actually keep the competition fair and balanced.
Had it not been for Johnson’s resoluteness down the stretch – as well as a lack of interest by the rest of the U.S. Open field in really pushing him – this major golf tournament had the potential to conclude as unsatisfactorily as “The Soprano’s.”
Did Dustin Johnson cause his ball to waver a mere millimeter on the green five holes into his final, championship round? He said no, and played on under the initial ruling that he was good.
But the United States Golf Association began looking into the fine print, and discovered that, basically, the player is always wrong. As the Fox Network crew broke down Johnson’s movements on the green in slow motion, painfully up-close detail, it could not be clearly determined that the player did anything to cause the ball to waffle. It certainly was obvious that Johnson gained not a micron of competitive advantage by the slight movement.
Yet, it says right there in the rules: “If the weight of evidence indicates that it is more likely than not that the player caused the ball to move, even though that conclusion is not free from doubt, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty ...”
Here is where the USGA really choked, to use the same vile verb so often applied to Johnson in his other major tournament failures. Instead of assessing the penalty on the spot, it informed Johnson seven holes later that he might be facing the loss of a stroke. They’d talk about it at the end of the round.
Hey, can we get the Warriors and Cavs back on the floor now? LeBron James clearly goal-tended at the end of their Game 7 Sunday.
Watching from a distance, some of Johnson’s peers took to social media to make their case.
Tweeted Rory McIlroy: “This is ridiculous... No penalty whatsoever for DJ. Let the guy play without this crap in his head. Amateur hour from USGA.”
From Jordan Spieth: “Lemme get this straight.. DJ doesn't address it. It's ruled that he didn't cause it to move. Now you tell him he may have? Now? This a joke?”
Could have been a joke had Johnson not bailed out the stuffy rulers by performing so well under the cloud of their indecision. One stroke here or there didn't matter in the end.
Really, it worked out just great for everyone. Johnson got the result he deserved. And golf got to assess him a meaningless penalty and prove once more that it is the most self-righteous of the games we play.