AFTER the drama of Dustin Johnson's one-stroke penalty was diffused by his convincing victory, the USGA have responded to the criticism they faced over the handling of the decision.
Thomas Pagel, the USGA's senior director of Rules and Amateur Status, was joined in the aftermath by Jeff Hall, the organisation's managing director of Rules and Competitions, to explain why they penalised Johnson and how the decision was deferred until after he completed his final round.
Johnson left the 18th green with a four shot lead but finished the tournament only three ahead after the USGA officially deemed his putter had caused his ball to move on the 5th green at Oakmont Country Club.
"In making a determination about whether a player caused the ball to move, you look at a number of factors. Certainly, there's a recognition of Oakmont's greens," Pagel said.
"We recognise that. But a couple of the other considerations you look at are the player's actions and also the time that elapses between the player's actions and the time that the ball moves.
"In Dustin's case, he did ground his putter near the ball on two occasions, and it was ... shortly after he ground his putter the second time that the ball moved."
In his post-round press conference, Johnson was asked whether he thought he would have been penalised if it had occured in a regular tour event.
"Probably not," Johnson responded.
Hall, though, explained tournament officials were concerned about what they had seen on the broadcast between Johnson and the rules official with the group.
When Johnson reached the 12th tee, which is much nearer to the clubhouse, Hall and USGA officials approached the eventual champion.
"We agreed that we were concerned about what we saw and felt obligated to have a conversation with Dustin about it, and the 12th tee presented the best opportunity to do that," Hall said.
"We had that conversation with Dustin. We told him that what we saw was a concern, but we also asked him a couple of questions.
"As we had that discussion, it became very apparent that we weren't going to get to a resolution there. Furthermore, there was some confusion ... he was quite adamant that he had not grounded the club, and that was certainly the case.
"He was certain he had not addressed the ball. And that was the case, but he did ground the putter proximate to the ball."
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After their interaction with Johnson on the 12th tee, Hall and the USGA felt there were still further discussions to be had and waited until the conclusion of his round to finalise the ruling.
However, that left for a confused scoreboard as third round leader Shane Lowry and Scott Piercy threatened Johnson's lead and fans and commentators alike weren't sure what Johnson's score actually was.
Johnson, though, was adament he did not cause the ball to move and spoke out in his post-round press conference.
"On the 5th green, the rules official, I called him over and told him what happened," Johnson said.
"Lee [Westwood, playing partner] was standing right there. He saw it. So we both agreed that I didn't cause the ball to move. So I just played on from there with no penalty.
"Watching the video, I still don't think I caused the ball to move, but the USGA, they said I did.
"I don't even understand the rule, but I got a penalty. It didn't matter at the end of the day. That's it."
The USGA relied on video evidence to make their final decision and were questioned whether it was fair on Johnson to approach him mid-round and seven holes after the incident.
"We had evidence. We saw it. We had to act on it," Pagel rebutted.
"And by acting on it, the process was put in motion to where we knew we had to have a discussion with Dustin.
"When it became apparent there was not going to be a resolution to that, we didn't feel it was appropriate to draw the conversation out on the 12th tee."
Hall and Pagel were also grilled as to whether it was unfair on particular players to rely on video evidence, including during local and sectional qualifying where there are no broadcast cameras.
"If you don't have the benefit of the video evidence, then you could reach a conclusion that the player didn't cause the ball to move," Pagel said.
"Again, in this case, we had evidence that we had to act on. If you don't act on evidence that you have, I think it could be detrimental to the game. I really do."
Johnson's score shifted from 5-under to 4-under on the official records, but in the end he was still the 2016 US Open champion.
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