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Dustin Johnson showed to be a man of character

August 23, 2010

I spent 17 years in the golf business, the final 14 as a PGA professional, working as an assistant and then the head professional at two golf courses.

I was a member of the PGA of America beginning in 1991 and conducted many golf tournaments.

None of them, mind you, as important as the PGA Championship, which concluded eight days ago at Whistling Straits.

But, I was around a lot of club championships, junior championships, member-guests and hundreds of other tournaments.

I was the guy who, after being handed a club championship scorecard and asking the competitor if he looked over it more than twice and signed it, eventually asked the competitor what he got on 16, he said 4, but the card said 5 and he missed the playoff because of that mistake.

I was the guy who, after being handed a card in a city championship and asking the same questions, eventually told the competitor he was disqualified because he did not sign his scorecard.

I eventually received a phone call from the club pro at the guy's home course, but what was done, was done.

There have been two rulings in the last two weeks with major consequences.

The first was what happened to Dustin Johnson at the PGA Championship.

It was an absolute mess and the PGA should be ashamed how they handled it.

Johnson hit his tee shot on the 72nd hole, with a one shot lead, right of right.

It appeared he caught a huge break when his ball rested on an open piece of dirt and not in a gnarly tangled mess in the grass.

He ripped the ball left of the green, chipped up and missed the winning putt, seemingly putting himself in a three-hole playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Johnson was met by the walking PGA rules official on the green, explaining there was an issue with his second shot, that it appeared that Johnson had grounded his club in a bunker.

"What bunker?" Johnson said he told him. "There's a lot going on. I'm excited I had a putt to win - or thought I had a putt to win. Walking off - I think I'm going to a playoff, and I've got a two-stroke penalty."

The PGA of America posted a notice in the locker room and on the first tee throughout the week, reminding players that all bunkers would be treated like hazards - even though the ropes go right through the middle of some of them, and fans could do whatever they wanted to those outside the ropes - have a picnic, build a bonfire, use it as kitty litter.

Johnson never disputed he grounded his club, but was amazed to be told he was in a bunker.

If you watched it on television, you saw him erasing the 5 and writing a 7 on his scorecard in the scoring room.

What a terrible sight.

I understand the players received memos, etc... about the millions of bunkers on the golf course.

But, if you allow bunkers to become nothing more than places for people to trample through and sit in throughout the week, they are no longer bunkers.

That would be a waste area.

And, if you are going to call those bunkers from Thursday morning to Sunday afternoon and after you saw where Johnson's ball had come to rest on the 72nd hole of the final major championship of the year, you say something to the PGA official in the group to remind Johnson that he is in a bunker and not to ground his club.

You, as PGA members, make sure this guy knows what is going on while he is thinking about making 4 from 240 yards out after hitting a pathetic tee shot.

You, as PGA members, do not stand by and wait for Johnson to ask a question.

You, as PGA members, offer the answer.

You, as the PGA rules official, walk with Johnson to see where the ball is and make sure he does nothing wrong.

His fellow competitor, Nick Watney, was 100 over par for the day, so what he did on the 72nd hole didn't matter.

What makes it even worse, the PGA of America has yet to come out with a statement saying they will amend how their rules officials act down the stretch.

Being proactive is not xeroxing off 1,000 pieces of paper and littering the lockerroom with them.

Being proactive means you make sure nothing like that happens.

It should not come as a shock that Johnson handled himself with grace and dignity.

He had no clue that was a bunker.

David Feherty had no clue that was a bunker.

I understand Johnson cannot claim ignorance as a defense, but some PGA rules official must make sure Johnson understands the situation.

But, the good thing was Johnson answered everyone's questions as a man without excuses.

He did not whine.

He did not throw things.

He did not have his mom call in and question the authorities.

He handled himself with grace and dignity throughout the mess.

He showed his character.

Can you imagine if he had made that putt on the 72nd hole to allegedly win the tournament, a major championship?

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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