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Sand trap rules may be etched in stone

MILWAUKEE — When the PGA Championship returns in five years to Whistling Straits, the rules on playing the countless bunkers may still be in place.

The golf world was still reeling Monday over the two-shot penalty given to Dustin Johnson on the final hole. He grounded his 4-iron in the sand to the right of the fairway, not aware he was in a bunker.

Johnson had a one-shot lead when he teed off on 18. He missed a 7-foot par putt and seemed to slip into a playoff. But when he learned he had let his club touch the sand during his preshot routine, Johnson added two shots to his score and tied for fifth.

Asked if there were any consideration to changing the unusual local bunker rule for 2015, PGA of America president Jim Remy said, "Not at this point."

"Obviously, it's the day after," Remy said. "I'm sure (championship director) Kerry Haigh will do his due diligence. He made the decision not to do it from 2004 to 2010. My guess is that probably the way we're leaning is to leave it that way."

It wasn't the first time someone paid for the bunker rule at Whistling Straits.

When the PGA Championship was first played there in 2004, Stuart Appleby was penalized four shots late in the third round, two each for removing a dead piece of grass to the right of the 16th hole and touching the sand on a practice swing.

That didn't cost him a major championship, though.

What never will be known is how Johnson would have fared in the three-hole playoff, which Martin Kaymer won over Bubba Watson. It was the most shocking finish involving rules at a major since Roberto de Vicenzo signed for 4 when he had made 3 on the 17th hole of the final round in the 1968 Masters. He had to accept the higher score and finished one shot behind Bob Goalby.

Johnson said he didn't look at the rules sheet that had been posted in the locker room and on the first tee throughout the week. The sheet explained that every bunker was a hazard, even if they were outside the ropes where the gallery had been standing.

"It was unfortunate for Dustin. I feel bad for him. He's a PGA member, just like I am," said Remy, general manager of Okemo Valley Golf Club in Vermont. "I feel sad for him the way it all unfolded. But that's the rules of golf. Those things happen in sports, and nobody feels good about it."

Remy said he didn't see a practical solution for 2015, or in 2020 for the Ryder Cup.

"Do you mark 900 of them not as bunkers and 300 as bunkers? How do you ever mark them?" he said.

Players continued to weigh in on both sides.

"In light of PGA finish, Augusta just announced new seating for patrons available in right greenside bunker by 18 green," Stewart Cink joked on Twitter.

PGA Tour rookie Kris Blanks, who missed the cut at the PGA, posted a picture of a child's sandbox and suggested that would be considered a bunker at Whistling Straits.

Fast facts

What is grounding?

Grounding the club means touching the ball or the ground with the club while addressing the ball. Many golfers will rest the clubhead on the ground to make sure they are the proper distance from the ball. Usually permitted, it is banned within the boundaries of a hazard, such as a sand trap, because it could, in theory, improve the lie by depressing the sand or allow the golfer to test conditions.

Sand trap rules may be etched in stone 08/16/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 16, 2010 10:10pm]

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