Another “controversial” decision hurts the USGA at the U.S. Women’s Open

The USGA are hardly flavour of the month. They already owe Dustin Johnson a huge debt of gratitude for covering up their clumsy officiating by creating a three-shot gap between him and second place, saving the day and ensuring the U.S. Open didn’t lose all credibility.

As Jordan Spieth summed up, we can’t simply ignore the USGA’s entrenched amateurishness because DJ got them out of jail.

What the USGA needed was a period of calm, they needed a figurative safe house with a mirror for self-reflection. Instead, they found themselves at the mercy of social media…again, because of another ‘controversial’ ruling this weekend.

The situation:

American Brittany Lang was in a three-hole aggregate play-off with Anna Nordqvist, the 29-year-old Solheim Cup player from Sweden. Nordqvist was penalised for touching sand in a bunker with her club on the second hole. John Bodenhamer the USGA’s Senior Managing Director of Competitions and Championships and Governance, said they first learned of the rules issue when someone from Fox called to asked if there had been an issue in the 17th bunker.

As it turned out, Anna had violated Rule 13-4b, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue came when the players were informed.

“We quickly consulted with our committee and decided that we would inform Anna immediately,” said Bodenhamer. “We immediately notified the referee, who, as quickly as he could, notified Anna and Brittany.”

SAN MARTIN, CA - JULY 10: Brittany Lang poses with the trophy on the 18th green after defeating Anna Nordqvist of Sweden in a three hole playoff to win the U.S. Women's Open at CordeValle Golf Club on July 9, 2016 in San Martin, California. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
SAN MARTIN, CA – JULY 10: Brittany Lang poses with the trophy on the 18th green after defeating Anna Nordqvist of Sweden in a three hole playoff to win the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle Golf Club on July 9, 2016 in San Martin, California. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The problem was they managed to notify Anna and Brittany at different times. The Swede wasn’t told about the incident until she had played her approach to the par-5 18th (3rd play-off hole). I wish the USGA would have told me a little bit earlier,” said a calm Nordqvist. “I don’t know if it would have changed the outcome, but it certainly would have changed my aggressiveness into the 18th pin.” “They approached me after I already hit my third shot into 18, then kind of ran up to Brittany to tell her that I got penalised,” thus enabling Brittany to play a conservative approach.

It’s clear the USGA need to codify their strategy for dealing with post-incident penalties and adapt to the technology that is making it easier to scrutinize players. It’s not like they made the wrong call, they failed because the players were informed at different times. They should seriously consider suspending play next time an incident like this occurs.

The final round took nearly 6 hours to complete, another staggering indication of the USGA’s inept handling of professional tournaments. It is very unfortunate that two of the biggest championships s in the professional games have been affected by a rules decision. “Hopefully these kind of situations are nothing that no one will ever have to deal with again,” said Nordqvist. We sure hope so.