Controversy over ball-moving ruling consumes U.S. Open (w/ video)

Dustin Johnson talks with a rules official on the fifth green after he notices his ball move slightly before a putt.
Dustin Johnson talks with a rules official on the fifth green after he notices his ball move slightly before a putt.
Published Jun. 20, 2016

OAKMONT, Pa. — Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open on Sunday, surviving a controversial and drawn-out discussion about a rules infraction that had players and fans ripping the USGA on social media and the crowd booing the USGA during the trophy presentation.

The chaos started with Johnson having a short par putt on the fifth hole. After taking a few practice strokes, he placed the putter behind the ball, and the ball moved slightly backward. Johnson stepped back, called over the rules official and told the official he didn't cause the ball to move. No penalty was assessed by the official, and Johnson tapped in for par.

Later, a staff member said on the radio that it might be worth another look, said Jeff Hall, senior director of rules and Open championships for the USGA. The USGA thought Johnson should know that his score might be one shot worse than it was, so it told him on the 12th tee.

"After looking at video, the actions he took could have caused the ball to move," Hall said. "We asked if there was some other reason the ball could have moved. He didn't state a reason."

The USGA said it would make a final ruling after the final round was over, which led to confusion over the entire back nine — for Johnson and the players trying to catch him.

Johnson thought he wasn't going to be penalized because he believed he hadn't done anything wrong.

But it was clear where the USGA was heading. Hall went on the Fox telecast of the tournament while play was still ongoing to say it appeared Johnson inadvertently moved the ball with his putter, which would be a one-shot penalty.

"That's certainly what we saw when we looked at the video," he said, "that Dustin moved it."

After the round, the USGA announced it had penalized Johnson one stroke, which made his final-round score 1-under 69 and gave him a three-shot win at 4-under 276.

"I think it's very unfair to the player," said Jack Nicklaus, who won the Open at Oakmont in 1962 and greeted Johnson as he came off the green. "They said, 'What did cause the ball to move?' He said 'I don't know.' We all know they can move any time."

Said Johnson: "I felt like I wasn't going to be penalized, so I just went about my business."