No one in golf has been hotter than Jason Dufner in the last month. April 29 Dufner broke through in the Zurich Classic in New Orleans and followed that up with a win in the Byron Nelson May 20. Dufner then proceeded to lead the first three rounds of the Crowne Invitational Colonial this weekend.
Zach Johnson hung with the hot Dufner and on May 26 Johnson shot a masterful final round to defeat Dufner and win his first tournament of 2012. Although Johnson won it was not without drama late in the final round. Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the final hole of the tournament.
Johnson almost gave Dufner his third tournament win in less than a month after making an obscure mistake. Johnson violated rule 20-7c1 of the Rules of Golf, Ball Replaced at Wrong Place on Putting Green and Holed.
Johnson moved his ball mark to give Dufner a clear path to the hole on the green but when he replaced his mark he placed it in the wrong place. A minor error that almost cost Johnson just under half a million dollars.
The rule states, "if a competitor makes a stroke from a wrong place, he incurs a penalty of two strokes under the applicable rule . He must play out the hole with the ball played from the wrong place, without correcting his error, provided he has not committed a serious breach."
Johnson got informed of the penalty as he walked to the clubhouse to fill out his scorecard. Johnson was taken aback by the penalty and was not sure if it cost him the victory.
Johnson spoke after the he being awarded the winner's share of $1,152,000. "I moved my mark, but I did not move it back," Johnson admitted after his round. "I told Damon (his caddie) on the five- or six-footer that I just wanted to hit a great putt. And I hit a great putt. I guess fortunately it went in ... I don't know. I guess if I would've missed it, it would've been ... I don't know what would've happened. I just feel very lucky. That's all. As I said earlier there are a number of adjectives that I'm calling myself right now, and lucky is the biggest one I can think of."
The penalty could have been the one of the biggest blunders in PGA history but Johnson had just enough on Dufner to survive the mistake. The penalty brings to light the bizarre nature of penalties in golf.
Professional golf is the only sport where a fan watching on television can report a foul from their couch and cost a PGA pro hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most golfers know he rules and penalize themselves but if they miss something and it happens on camera, it is common for fans to report their missteps.
Johnson can breathe easier tonight and it is a guarantee that he will remember rule 20-7c1 for the rest of his career. Any fans who happened to watch Johnson's mistake will no doubt use it to their advantage during their next round of golf as well.
*Todd Jacobs is an avid golfer who attends several PGA tour events every season.
USGA Rules of Golf