As dustin Johnson was being praised yesterday for the manner in which he dealt with being thrown out of the USPGA play-off, the eventual champion's own caddy labelled the two-shot penalty "farcical" and called it "a pathetic ruling".
Martin Kaymer won his first major when he beat Bubba Watson in a three-hole shootout, but the main talking point centred on the American's demotion to a tie for fifth. There was consolation for Johnson as the rookie still managed to secure a Ryder Cup berth. And his captain was full of admiration for the 26-year-old.
"The one thing that I will remember from this more than anything is the way Dustin handled himself," said Corey Pavin yesterday. "He was very mature – I couldn't imagine a player handling it any better than he did."
Indeed, there was no screaming or shouting from Johnson when told that he had grounded his club in what was deemed to be a bunker on the 18th hole. He was one ahead when he sliced his drive into a sandy patch outside the ropes where the crowd had been standing and walking. After bogeying the hole and falling – he thought – into a three-man play-off, Johnson was informed of the two-shot penalty.
Boos rang around the 18th green when the penalty was announced and on American TV, David Feherty, the former Europe Ryder Cup player, said he couldn't see how it could be classed as a bunker. But after taking a shower, Johnson stood in front of the media and spoke philosophically. He admitted not reading the "Supplementary Rules of Play" distributed to each player and recounted what the official in the scorer's hut told him. "Pretty much he said that any piece of sand on the whole golf course is a bunker," said Johnson.
It was left to Kaymer's bagman to say what many of the watching public were no doubt feeling. "It's a bit farcical," said Scotsman Craig Connelly. "You can't have bunkers that people are walking through and grass is growing out of. It is a pathetic ruling to say that was a bunker. I know they said at the start of the week that everything was bunkers but that was very harsh."
Criticism filled the internet chat rooms. Whistling Straits is almost unique in featuring so many of these little "pieces of dirt" that bear little resemblance to ordinary bunkers.
This was not the first time a pro has been caught out on Pete Dye's spectacular but quirky layout. At the 2004 USPGA Stuart Appleby was hit by a similar penalty which cost him more than £120,000. The ambiguity of the terrain was always destined to ensnare a player and the only shame is this happened to have affected the result.
Focus will inevitably fall on the rules official who was following the group. it was explained he didn't want to accompany Johnson to his ball as he didn't want "to hover". If he had, he could have warned Johnson and an incident which did the reputation of the sport no good whatsoever would have been averted.
Pavin, however, refused to denigrate either the rules or the officials, instead agreeing with the majority in golf who believe Johnson was at fault. "It was an unfortunate incident," he said.
The rule he broke
Rule 13 in Rules of Golf:
The ball must be played as it lies, except:
13-4: Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions: The player must not: a) Test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard; b) Touch the ground in the hazard or water in the water hazard with his hand or a club; or c) Touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard. Penalty: two strokes
Local rule: 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