After several near misses, Dustin Johnson finally closed the deal and won the 2016 US Open at Oakmont Country Club. Added to the pressure of trying to win the US Open was a possible penalty lingering over his head from the fifth green where he was standing over a putt when his ball moved. The ball moved ever so slightly as he got ready to hit the putt. Johnson immediately called in a Rules Official and insisted that that he was not the cause of the ball moving. After listening to Johnson and assessing what he heard, the referee made the judgement that Johnson had not caused the ball to move and no penalty was issued. Play resumed. Seven holes later, Johnson was informed by a USGA official that the incident was still under review.
Rule 34-2 Referee’s Decision states: “If a referee has been appointed by the Committee, his decision is final”, whether or not the decision is correct. Sounds cut and dried. But that is not necessarily correct. The Committee reserves the right to review all infractions. In this case they did just that, they reviewed Johnson’s actions on video tape and they felt his actions may have caused the ball to move. By the time they called in the head Rules Official and the referee that made the call, Johnson was on the eleventh hole. A USGA Official met Johnson on the 12th tee and apprised him of the situation. They also notified the rest of the field.
Rule 34-3 Committee’s Decision, does not prevent a Committee from changing a ruling (See Decision 34-3/1). Based on the evidence furnished, the referee determined that Johnson did not cause the ball to move and he instructed Johnson to play the ball as it lies without penalty. After a player plays, the Committee can assess the the same evidence or additional evidence. In Johnson’s case, the Committee reviewed the tapes of his actions and determined that he had caused the ball to move. He was assessed a one stroke penalty on the completion of his round.
Under Rule 34-3, a Committee’s decision is final. The Rule does not prevent a Committee from correcting an incorrect ruling and imposing or rescinding a penalty provided that no penalty is imposed or rescinded after the competition is closed, except in circumstances set forth in Rule 34-1b.
Frank Guastella, PGA Rules Official Michigan Section PGA
Staff Writer, Mike Fay Golf
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