Ignorance is not a defense. Not when you're driving too fast and a cop pulls you over. Not when you're grounding your club in a stretch of sand at a major championship. Not ever.
|Dustin Johnson has only himself to blame for the final-round PGA Championship mishap. (AP)|
This was ignorance from apathy.
And ignorance is not a defense. Especially not ignorance from apathy.
I'm a little bit irritated today with Dustin Johnson, but I'm a lot irritated with his caddie, the apathetic Bobby Brown, who had more than 300 yards -- as he walked from the tee to the spot in the dirt where Johnson's drive on the 72nd hole was perched -- to consider whether maybe, just maybe, that big swath of sand that once was a bunker, and still looked remotely like a bunker, might still be considered a bunker.
Johnson had a lot on his mind, like the 82 he had shot two months earlier to close his U.S. Open, a larynx-crushing round that his fans feared would ruin him forever. And he had his 230-yard approach to the green on Sunday, knowing he had to get it close enough to the green to be in position for the up-and-down par that would win his first major.
The caddie, Bobby Brown, should have made it his prerogative to get the answer to one question: Is that a bunker? A rules official was walking with the final group, so this was an easy question to have answered. And before you start, don't -- it's not the rules official's responsibility to alert Johnson that his ball was lying in a bunker. It's Johnson's responsibility to know, or to ask. And since the caddie was alongside him, dealing with the small stuff so Johnson could handle the actual golf, it was Bobby Brown's responsibility as well.
Rules are rules|
The rules were stated simply and Dustin Johnson broke the rules when he grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits. Read More >>
Nobody asked a damn thing. And their ignorance is not a defense.
Because the rules were clear. They were clear in multiple places. People seem fairly united today -- fans, even opposing golfers -- that Johnson was screwed by the rule, but those people ignore the most compelling piece of information available to the contrary:
That the rule was clear, and available to all golfers (and their caddies).
The rule was posted all four days in the players' locker room at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wis. It was circulated in a memo that was personally given to each player in the field. The rule said, quite simply:
"All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers [hazards], whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints ..."
Clear as can be. That pile of dirt? It's a bunker.
Even though there's no rake signifying it's a bunker? It's a bunker.
Even though fans were standing in it during the round? It's a bunker.
The rule was clear. And say what you want about the banality -- or anal-ity -- of golf's rule book, but it's the most noble sport in the world for this very reason.
In almost all other sports, athletes or coaches cheat for an advantage. In baseball and football, coaches steal signs with binoculars or hidden cameras. In basketball, players knock the ball out of bounds and then willfully point the other way, trying to fool the referee into giving the ball to the wrong team. In soccer, players flop like dying salmon, hoping the official will call a foul or even a red card on the other team, forcing that team to continue with only 10 players. Race cars are doctored. A pitcher's spitball is doctored. An athlete's body is doctored. Cheating? Sure. But everyone does it, so we accept it.
Golf doesn't accept it. And bully for golf. Golf is so honorable that players will call penalties on themselves, even when nobody else saw the penalty. Stewart Cink basically disqualified himself from the 2008 Zurich Classic because one bunker shot went into another bunker, and his caddie raked the first bunker before Cink could play out of the second. Obscure rule? Sure. Cink didn't even know the rule until the next day. But when he realized what he had done, and that he hadn't given himself a two-stroke penalty -- and therefore had signed his scorecard with an incorrect score -- he ratted himself out and was disqualified. All because golf's rules are silly? Maybe so.
But also, because golf has integrity.
That integrity must be maintained, at all times, or it's not there. Integrity is like virginity -- either you have it, or you don't. There is no middle ground, no allowance, no, Well, the rule says this, but he didn't know, so ...
None of that. The rule says this? Then the rule says this. Period. End of story. Even if a player didn't know the rules.
Especially if the player didn't know the rules.
The rule was clear all weekend at the PGA Championship. It was clear for any player, and caddie, who cared enough to read the rules attached to the wall and circulated throughout the locker room.
Johnson didn't read the rules. He admitted as much afterward.
"I only look at [the sheet] if I have a reason to," Johnson said, "and I didn't see I had a reason to."
Nope. No reason. Other than a major championship. And the first prize of $1.35 million.
Other than that, why would anyone read the stupid rules?
Dustin Johnson isn't a sympathetic figure. He's an infuriating one.