USGA issues apology to U.S. Open champ Johnson
Dustin Johnson received plenty of congratulations Sunday for winning the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.
Monday brought an apology.
The USGA faced widespread backlash on social media from fans and players both during and after Johnson's final round, in which the question of whether he would be assessed a one-stroke penalty for his actions on the fifth green loomed for several hours.
Johnson addressed a par putt on the fifth green when his ball appeared to move backward. Johnson called over a rules official and said he did not cause the ball to move, but was informed on the 12th tee by a USGA rules official that a video review after his round would determine whether Johnson would face a one-stroke penalty.
The USGA released a statement Monday that said its actions on the 12th tee created an “unnecessary ambiguity” for Johnson, other players, spectators and viewers following U.S. Open coverage off-site.
“Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the score card is returned,” the USGA statement read. “While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leaderboard after we informed Dustin on the 12th tee that his actions on the fifth green might lead to a penalty.”
Johnson was assessed the one-stroke penalty after his round, by then a moot point with Shane Lowry, Scott Piercy and Jim Furyk all three strokes back of Johnson, who officially ended the tournament 4-under-par.
USGA managing director of rules and open championships Jeff Hall and senior director of rules and amateur status Thomas Pagel met with reporters Sunday night after Johnson's celebration on the 18th green. Pagel explained video review of Johnson's routine on the fifth green revealed Johnson “more likely than not” was the reason for the ball's movement.
Johnson said after his round that while he did not agree he had caused his ball to move on the fifth green, the penalty did not bother him.
“Seeing as how it didn't affect the outcome, no. I still didn't want the penalty. I didn't think that I did anything to cause the ball to move, but at the end of the day, it didn't affect what happened,” Johnson said. “So it doesn't bother me at all.”
In its statement, the USGA said it would “closely examine” its video review, timing of its video review and communication with players to better handle a situation like Johnson's in the future.
“We accept that not everyone will agree that Dustin caused his ball to move,” the statement read. “While we respect the viewpoints of those who disagree, our committee made a careful and collective judgment in its pursuit of a fair competition played under the Rules of Golf.”
Andrew Erickson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @AErickson_Trib.