Tour News

USGA vows no repeat of Johnson fiasco

Dustin Johnson speaks with a rules official moments after the infamous incident on the 5th green at Oakmont last year.
It was one of the most divisive rules mishaps in the history of the game but the USGA is determined there will be no repeat of the Dustin Johnson debacle from the 2016 US Open at Oakmont.

In a wide-ranging press conference ahead of the 2017 event, the organisations’s Senior Managing Director of Rules, Competitions & Equipment Standards, John Bodenhamer, outlined a comprehensive upgrade to the way the USGA will deal with real-time rules issues beginning at Erin Hills.

On-course video review stations and rules officials carrying tablets will be part of this year’s set-up to avoid the confusion which saw Johnson play the last seven holes of the final round in 2016 uncertain about whether he would be penalised for an infraction on the fifth green.

Facing the press alongside USGA Executive Director Mike Davis, President Diana Murphy and Chairman of the Championship Committee Stuart Francis, Bodenhamer said the organisation had made every effort to ensure there would be no repeat of the Johnson fiasco.

“I think last year there were two things we fell short on; it took too long to make the ruling and it left uncertainty with the competition,” he said.

“I think, should a similar circumstance happen (this year), I think we are poised to move quickly. We have adopted protocol to expedite inside.”

Bodenhamer said a changed use of technology would play an important role in ensuring rulings were dealt with quickly.

“We've enhanced the technology so we'll be able to have a quick look,” he said of the lengthy delay in informing Johnson there was a potential problem last year.

“That was a problem last year, we couldn't get at it quick enough because of the number of people in those pinch points (at Oakmont).

“We will not leave that uncertainty if similar circumstances come up this year.”

Among the changes will be on-course video review stations and several senior rules officials armed with tablets to allow immediate review of potential rules issues.

“We have four on-course video review locations to assist us in expediting our rules decision-making process,” he said.

“These locations will be augmented also by tablets. And some of us on the committee will have those with us and will be able to move quickly on making decisions considering facts as we go forward.”

He also revealed rules officials would no longer be walking with each group, instead replaced by a ‘stationary referee’ model which sees each official assigned to a group of holes rather than a group of players.

“They just need to know everything there is about two or three holes on the golf course, to which they're assigned,” he said of how the new system would affect those making rulings.

“And we give them those assignments earlier so they can go out and they can familiarise themselves with every aspect and nuance of those couple of holes.

“And so it allows them to be familiar. But it also allows us to put our best rules officials on perhaps holes that might produce complex rulings. We looked at it, other major championships use this model, some don't, some do. But we asked ourselves what was in the best interests of the championship, the players, the fans, and this is the way we wanted to go.”

The USGA is under pressure to ensure a controversy-free championship at Erin Hills after last year's US Women’s Open was also marred by a rules controversy.

The 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay was also roundly criticised because the course’s greens were in poor condition the week of the tournament.

“If we're being honest, yeah, we're human,” Mike Davis said when asked if the organisation was under extra pressure this week.

“We know we've had some issues the last two years. So moving forward, we want a nice, smooth US Open. But, listen, we're prepared - you never know what's going to happen with Mother Nature.

“You're never going to know what happens with certain rule situations or how the players play the course. So you just deal with them and you remain nimble and flexible.”


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