A day after the U.S. Open was nearly marred by a rules controversy, USGA executive director and CEO Mike Davis explained that his organization would like a “mulligan” over how it handled the penalty ultimately assessed to winner Dustin Johnson.
Johnson’s ball moved slightly on the fifth green during the final round. While the walking rules official initially absolved him of any penalty, USGA officials revisited Johnson on the 12th tee to inform him that a penalty was still possible and would be decided after a video review at the conclusion of his round.
What resulted was a surreal scenario where players, announcers and viewers didn’t know how the leaderboard actually looked as the tournament reached its conclusion. Speaking on “Golf Central,” Davis admitted that the application of the ruling wasn’t handled well.
“When you look back at the whole issue, you can break it down into two parts. It’s a rules of golf issue, of trying to make sure that you apply the rules correctly the way they’re written. And we do believe we did that,” Davis said. “But there’s another part of it in terms of the conduct of the championship itself, and that’s where we’d really like a mulligan because clearly we made a big bogey.”
The penalty ultimately didn’t factor into the final result, as it simply trimmed Johnson’s winning margin from four shots to three. But the controversy brought forth an avalanche of criticism from PGA Tour players and fans alike.
In hindsight, Davis said that he wished the officials had simply informed Johnson of his penalty on the 12th tee rather than leaving the field to navigate a series of what-if scenarios while looking at the leaderboards in crunch time.
“That really gets down to putting in essence the championship on the final day almost in limbo to where the players, and in this case Dustin, didn’t know where he stood in terms of a score,” he said. “That’s where, if we could do it again, we should have just applied the penalty once we looked at the video.”
Davis reiterated that the USGA stands by the penalty decision under Rule 18-2 and that they “absolutely” were correct to assess a one-shot penalty based on the video evidence.
“In this case, what it was was a timing issue. The championship deserved to have clarity at that time, and simply put, we didn’t provide that clarity,” Davis said. “We strongly believe we got the ruling right, we just didn’t apply it in the proper timing and sequence. And that’s where, as I say, I think we bogeyed, and for that we truly regret and furthermore apologize for the way that was handled.”