Dustin Johnson was one hole away from a PGA Championship victory opportunity two years too early.
Fortunately for Johnson, the 2012 PGA is all set for the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. Grounding clubs is fully permis-sible in the waste bunkers spread all over the Pete Dye-designed gem.
Unfortunately, the 2010 PGA will be remembered for Johnson's folly on a beachy piece of Dye-cast course in Sheboygan, Wis.
Unaware he was in a controver- sial bunker, the 26-year-old Myrtle Beach resident and frequent Lowcountry visitor grounded his club Sunday before striking a ball on the 18th hole. The subsequent two-stroke penalty cost a chance to participate in a playoff in which a man named Martin Kaymer defeated Bubba Watson.
A week ago, they probably didn't know Dustin Johnson from beer or bratwurst in a town roughly halfway between Milwaukee and Green Bay.
But Johnson probably should have known about the bunker interpretation that zapped Stuart Appleby when the 2004 PGA Championship was played at Whistling Straits.
That rules officials, even when standing nearby, do not intervene with pre-shot help.
He definitely knows the 2012 PGA Championship cannot come soon enough.
Johnson's PGA tour ascendency isn't surprising. The Columbia
native and former Coastal Carolina golfer finished in the top 10 in his 31 college events. At 6-4, he is athletic enough to dunk a basketball and has a hoops bloodline. Art Whisnant, his grandfather, made the All-ACC first or second team three times while playing at South Carolina from 1960-62, and his brother Austin played basketball for Charleston Southern.
But before Sunday, Johnson was best known for his meltdown in June at the U.S. Open. Leading by three strokes after three rounds at Pebble Beach, he shot a final-round 82.
"I don't even think his brain is working at the moment," NBC's Johnny Miller said as Johnson struggled along.
Give credit to Johnson for not snagging the PGA trophy from Kaymer and fleeing for Oshkosh in a courtesy vehicle.
Perhaps we can agree that golf's grounding-the-club rule is cheesier than all Wisconsin.
Clearly, Johnson did not recognize a trampled "bunker" hidden by spectators.
But the application of the rule was relatively fair.
Minus the fans, it sure looked like a bunker, one of a thousand or so at Whistling Straits.
Johnson was warned with an 8-by-10 sheet of paper attached inside the clubhouse and including these words:
"All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during play of the championship. Such irregularities of surface are part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions."
Notice the "footprints" reference?
In football, game officials do not tell a defensive tackle he is lined up offsides.
Basketball officials wait until after the missed free throw to let would-be rebounders know about lane violations.
It is not an umpire's responsibility to tell a batter he is hitting out of order.
Look at the PGA leaderboard. Some older, wiser guys probably do not make the same post-Appleby mistake.
But maybe the Ryder Cup-bound Johnson's loss is somehow Kiawah's gain for 2012. Worried about the slippage of Tiger Woods? The potential for excessive heat and thunderstorms?
Well, they just held a PGA in which …
--Woods was barely a factor.
--Weird weather didn't wreak havoc.
--The winner was some guy The Golf Channel never heard of.
--And yet it was a compelling tournament.
Not that we wish a 2010 experience on Dustin Johnson, or anyone else, in 2012.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at email@example.com or (843) 937-5593.