Dustin Johnson Proves Why Golf Will Never Be a Sport

This is the "bunker" where Johnson grounded his club.

So I returned from a beautiful Hawaiian family vacation yesterday morning (red eye got in around 6 a.m.) and naturally I went to sleep for the whole day. I woke up around 3 p.m. and read the ESPN alerts on my phone. The first one that I noticed was that Twins starter Kevin Slowey was taken out of the game in the middle of a no-hitter. Being a former (well, current if you count Sunday Adult League) pitcher, I was understandably confused.

It’s one of those cardinal rules in baseball that you don’t take a pitcher out, no matter how many pitches he’s thrown, if he hasn’t given up a hit. I was curious to hear the story so later that night I turned on SportsCenter, but I didn’t see any segments about the Slowey decision. All I saw were golf highlights. Golf? Really? This is the biggest baseball story we’ve had in weeks, and you’re gonna show me golf? And it’s not even about Tiger!?!? Who the hell is Dustin Johnson anyway?

After my third time seeing the Johnson story I gave in and watched it, and I couldn’t help but be captivated. In case you haven’t heard, this guy Johnson was in position to end his final round of the PGA Championship (which I guess is a big deal or something) in a tie for the lead, which would put him into a three-way playoff with Martin Kaymer and a grown man named Bubba. However, Johnson didn’t make it to the playoff.

Lots of scenarios went through my head. He missed an easy putt. He had a meltdown on the final hole and shot a Roy McAvoy-esque 12 on the final hole. One of Tiger Woods‘ mistresses accidentally ran him over with a golf cart in a fit of rage. Nope.

Johnson was penalized two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker. Um…excuse me? Grounding his club in a bunker? It sounds like a failed attempt at innuendo by a college freshman.

SportsCenter must have shown 30 clips of the “incident” and afterwards I still had no clue what it meant to “ground one’s club”. A Google search led me to this brief description by Golf Digest which so eloquently summarizes the penalty:

SITUATION: Player A, while competing in a stroke-play championship, discovers his ball in a sand bunker. (A sand bunker is a hazard. Grass-covered ground bordering a sand bunker, or within one, is not considered part of the hazard. A ball is in a bunker when any part of it touches a bunker.)

COMMON MISTAKE: In taking his address, Player A rests the bottom of the club on the ground. Rule 13-4 does not permit grounding the club in a sand bunker or water hazard. Hence, Player A must incur a two-stroke penalty. In match play, the penalty is loss of hole.

CORRECT PROCEDURE: When preparing to hit a recovery shot from a sand bunker (or water hazard), make sure to keep the club elevated. The bottom of the club is not allowed to touch the sand, the surface of the water, or any area of ground inside the hazard.

After having a few laughs at the word “situation”, I realized two things: 1) I’m an idiot and should have realized that “grounding” a club means putting your club on the ground, and 2) Golf is a silly, silly game.

I’ll spare you a rant about how the guy deserved a chance to win and the winner of a major should not be determined on such a ridiculous technicality. I’ll even spare you the part about how the “bunker” was a tiny patch of dirt that Johnson thought was simply a patch of grass that spectators had trampled. I guess Stuart Appelby already provided a rant of his own via his Twitter feed. You know you’ve arrived as a journalist when you’ve typed that sentence.

People have debated for a long time whether golf is actually a sport, but the Dustin Johnson incident put an end to it (I was going to try to come up with a clever name for it, but ClubGate 2010 sounds like an MTV Spring Break special).

At first I thought it was the rule. What a stupid, stupid rule. You can’t put your club on the ground before you hit the ball? That’s like saying you can’t dribble before you shoot a free throw. Or you can’t tap your bat on home plate before you start your at-bat. Or you can’t take those stupid backwards steps before you kick a field goal.

Not being a golfer, I have decided to abstain from postulating theories on why this rule exists. I just imagined a scenario where the ALCS was determined on a balk call and reading countless Facebook Status Updates saying “what is a balk anyway…what a stupid rule…check out these pics of me and my boyz in Cancun HOLLA!” I always get upset at people for scoffing at rules they don’t understand, so I won’t be a hypocrite.

So why does this whole mess prove that golf is not a sport? One word: reaction.

Every sport has dumb rules. My favorite sport, baseball, has about 13,000 dumb rules that were created before Prohibition that make no sense now that we have telephones and washing machines. One of the most infamous of these rules is the “pine tar rule” which states that the substance cannot extend more than 18 inches from the handle of the bat. The rule was created to keep pine tar from getting on the ball, thus rendering it unusable. Now that the average life of a Major League Baseball is three pitches, the rule makes absolutely no sense. But to “preserve the sanctity of the game,” baseball keeps it in.

As we all know, the pine tar rule came into play on July 24, 1983 when umpires discounted George Brett‘s homerun and called him out because the pine tar on his bat exceeded the limit.

So, like I said, stupid rules are a part of the game. But how did George Brett react to that decision? See below for the answer to that question.

That’s what athletes do. That’s how you know baseball is a sport. That was a meaningless regular season game, and George Brett acted like the umpire had murdered his first-born child.

How did Dustin Johnson react? His words:

I just thought I was on a piece of dirt that the crowd had trampled down. I never thought I was in a sand trap. It never once crossed my mind that I was in a bunker…Obviously I know the rules of golf and I can’t ground my club in a bunker, but that was just one situation I guess. Maybe I should have looked to the rule sheet a little harder.

Can you see George Brett, or any other athlete who doesn’t wear a polo shirt and khakis during competition responding to a miscarriage of justice like that with “Maybe I should have looked to the rule sheet a little harder”? I mean, on the heels of Steven Slater‘s epic resignation, I think we can do a little better than that.

The fact that golfers willingly accept these things in an effort to remain “upstanding” and “classy” is why the average fan will never be able to relate. People have to shut up and take it when their boss asks them to work the weekend; they don’t want to see athletes do the same thing.


Crappy Gilmore

At least he\'s wearing black pants


So I was fortunate enough to attend the Traveler’s Championship on Friday at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, CT. I had never been to a PGA tour event, or any golf tournament for that matter, and I was definitely surprised at what I saw.

Instead of stuffy old men with ascots and pennyloafers, I saw everything from high schoolers to tattooed bikers. And every single one of them was slamming beers and/or smoking cigars. There were concession stands (also known as liquor stores) set up every 20 feet and I’d be surprised if all of them didn’t sell out of aluminum Budweiser bottles.

Oh yeah, the old men were there too, but they certainly weren’t stuffy. As a 70-year-old man purchased yet another beer, I heard his wife whisper to him, “that’s enough….you’re gonna get sick!” Isn’t that what you picture when you think of a golf tournament, old men getting hammered and puking in the hole at the 17th green?


Since I had no idea where I was going (at one point a security guard saw me wandering around and said, ‘Sir, are you ok?’ …and I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol), but when I eventually made it to the 8th hole, I discovered that I was watching Stuart Appleby’s group. I had heard of him, so I decided to follow them around. I had no idea what I was in for.

So after Appleby took his tee shot, Olin Browne stepped up and took his. Then, out of nowhere, came this clown in pink tuxedo pants, a visor with perfectly-gelled hair sticking out of the top, and a black polo shirt with a surprisingly unpopped collar. He pulled out his orange “big dog” and proceeded to crush the ball down the fairway. I gotta know who this guy is.

I look at my list of groups for the day and I see that this guy is named Eric Axley. And this is not the first time he’s dressed like this.

I don’t really follow golf (if Tiger’s not playing, I’m probably not watching), but apparently he’s pretty good; he tied for 9th at the US Open last weekend. That certainly does not excuse the behavior I saw from him over the ensuing couple of holes.


Highlights of Axley’s tournament:


8th hole: Getting pissed after missing a put and throwing his putter not once, but twice. Then, after finally making it, throwing the ball at 82 miles per hour towards his bag, leaving it for his caddie to pick up.


10th hole: Axley instructing his caddie to tell the spectators 200 feet away to stop moving so that he can concentrate on making his two-foot put (he made it…good thing there was no movement).


11th hole: Axley missing another putt and leaning over in disbelief, refusing to move for about 45 seconds while Appleby is trying to line up his putt.


13th hole: Axley stopping in the middle of the backswing of his chip shot out of the rough, turning to the crowd and yelling, “Come on guys! We’re trying to play golf here!” His caddie then points out a few adolescents in the crowd an tells them to leave.  Axley proceeds to hit the chip shot over the hole and down a hill on the opposite side of the green. Of course as he’s walking he turns around and shakes his head at the spot where the “disturbance” happened.


Appleby and Browne, on the other hand, were consummate proffesionals, joking with the kids in the crowd. Appleby’s caddie politely asked some spectators to relocate when a drive went into the gallery.

By the way, Appleby finished the day with a 66, Browne with a 69. Axley, despite his theatrics, finished with a robust 76, failing to make the cut….by a lot.

I tried to talk to Axley afterwards, but unfortunately he couldn’t hear me over his pants.

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