Six years ago, the lack of trust between professional golfers and the US Open overlords inspired a social-media barrage that sent the ruling body staggering into the ropes, bloodied and calling for a white towel to be thrown into the ring.
The USGA had been a punching bag for so long that it should have been sponsored by Everlast. But when the blazers running that organization threatened US Open final-round leader Dustin Johnson with a possible penalty in the middle of his round — over the slightest backward movement of his ball on Oakmont’s fifth green, a movement he swore he didn’t cause — his fellow pros attacked like never before.
“Amateur hour from @USGA,” tweeted the uber-thoughtful and dignified Rory McIlroy, who later added, “If it was me I wouldn’t hit another shot until this farce was rectified.”
Jordan Spieth called the pending judgment hanging over Johnson’s head as he was trying to win his first major title “a joke.” Rickie Fowler called the notion that Johnson made the ball move with his putter “laughable.” Tiger Woods used Twitter to call the whole mess a “rules farce.”
After Johnson survived the uncertainty and prevailed with enough of a cushion to absorb the one-stroke penalty the USGA did ultimately and absurdly give him, Jack Nicklaus congratulated him for overcoming “all that crap they threw at you.”
Tournament officials deserved every cruel and comical thing posted about them that day, especially the classic Crying Jordan meme that substituted the weeping legend’s face for the “G” in USGA.
Nothing has ever been easier in golf than a tap-in birdie and a cheap shot at the people who run the US Open. But with the game’s most punitive major set to start Thursday at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., it should be noted that an organization with a storied history of getting it wrong (see the Shinnecock greens, 2004; and the Chambers Bay greens, 2015) has gotten it right with the makeup of the 2022 field.
The USGA absolutely made the correct call in allowing Dustin Johnson and his fellow LIV Golf defectors to play ball.
Up front, everyone understands what Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and friends did. They left the PGA Tour and took the blood money from the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit because the pile of guaranteed cash was so big. They decided against making the brutal 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other Saudi human-rights atrocities deal-breakers.
Fans should be the judge and jury on what punishment, if any, should be handed out. If longtime Mickelson fans want to abandon him for doing $200 million worth of business with reprehensible people who are trying to sportswash their global image, they should go ahead and abandon him. If fans of Lefty and Johnson want to stick to golf, and point out that the US government and American companies cut plenty of lucrative trade deals with the likes of Saudi Arabia and China (President Biden might meet next month with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman , the very leader alleged to have authorized Khashoggi’s killing), they should go ahead and enjoy the tee-to-green show.
But the USGA had no right to disqualify the 14 players in the first LIV Golf event, this week outside of London, who had earned their way into the US Open fairly and squarely. On the legal front, what court, exactly, would have denied those players an immediate injunction to compete at Brookline? And if tournament organizers and league commissioners in different sports started banning athletes who had business ties to countries with disturbing human-rights records, you’d end up with a lot of empty locker rooms and arenas.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan didn’t suspend the LIV boys because the new tour is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The company man suspended them because he is terrified that LIV Golf and its bottomless reserve of up-front money represent a potentially lethal threat to his company.
In a letter to his players, Monahan wrote that tour fans and partners “are surely tired of all this talk of money, money, and more money.” But if the PGA Tour wants to fend off the LIV challenge, defined by nine-figure bonuses, $4 million checks for tournament winners, and $120,000 checks for last-place finishers, it had better come up with money, money, and more money for star players — and sooner much rather than later.
For the sake of maintaining the sport’s world order, the USGA could have embraced the PGA Tour’s position and preference, announced it was dropping the Greg Norman traveling all-stars from the US Open field, then fought the LIV lawyers in court. Instead, the US Open’s governing body released a statement that read like this:
“We pride ourselves in being the most open championship in the world and the players who have earned the right to compete in this year’s championship, both via exemption and qualifying, will have the opportunity to do so. … We simply asked ourselves this question — should a player who had earned his way into the 2022 US Open, via our published field criteria, be pulled out of the field as a result of his decision to play in another event? And we ultimately decided that they should not.”
No, the USGA doesn’t deserve a standing ovation for merely making the right call. Just an acknowledgment that it did finally sink a big putt under final-round pressure.