USGA regrets delay on Johnson penalty punishment


The United States Golf Association (USGA) has admitted their decision to delay a decision regarding Dustin Johnson moving the ball brought "uncertainty" to the final round of the U.S. Open.

Johnson appeared to cause his ball to move ahead of a putt on the fifth hole of his final round at Oakmont, but officials refused to make a ruling until the end of the round.

That delay appeared to affect Johnson initially, but he regained his composure to end his long wait for a first major title as he edged out Shane Lowry for victory.

However, the USGA were roundly criticised for their handling of the incident and making the field wait until the final putt had rolled in before ruling.

Johnson was deemed to have caused his ball to move and was handed a one-shot penalty, a punishment that proved irrelevant after he had opened up a four-shot lead.

In a statement released on Monday, the USGA apologised for their handling of the situation and acknowledged their actions caused "unnecessary ambiguity".

"Our team at the USGA has seen and heard a great deal of discussion and debate about the ruling on Dustin's ball moving during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club," a statement read. 

"In addition to the explanations we offered upon the conclusion of the final round, we add these comments.

"Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the score card is returned. 

"While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leaderboard after we informed Dustin on the 12th tee that his actions on the fifth green might lead to a penalty. 

"This created unnecessary ambiguity for Dustin and the other players, as well as spectators on-site, and those watching and listening on television and digital channels.

"During any competition, the priority for rules officials is to make the correct ruling for the protection of the player(s) involved and the entire field. 

"Our officials reviewed the video of Dustin on the fifth green and determined that based on the weight of the evidence, it was more likely than not that Dustin caused his ball to move. Dustin's putter contacted the ground at the side of the ball, and almost immediately after, the ball moved.

"We accept that not everyone will agree that Dustin caused his ball to move. Issues under Rule 18-2 often require a judgment where there is some uncertainty, and this was one of those instances. We also understand that some people may disagree with Rule 18-2 itself. 

"While we respect the viewpoints of those who disagree, our committee made a careful and collective judgment in its pursuit of a fair competition played under the Rules of Golf.

"In keeping with our commitment to excellence in all aspects of our work on behalf of the game of golf, we pledge to closely examine our procedures in this matter. We will assess our procedures for handling video review, the timing of such, and our communication with players to make sure that when confronted with such a situation again, we will have a better process."