Micky Walker: Another USGA ruling tarnished Lang’s win
The back nine at the US Women’s Open at the beautiful CordeValle near San Jose in California was full of excitement with six players jostling for the top spot.
But if the play in regulation time was exciting, it was nothing to the controversy which once again surrounded the United States Golf Association, who are responsible for the staging of the men’s and women’s US Opens, administering the rules for those championships and, along with the Royal and Ancient, making the rules of golf.
I’m sure many of you will recall the men’s US Open at Oakmont when Dustin Johnson was deemed to have caused his ball to move on the 5th green while taking his stance, thus incurring a one-shot penalty.
The controversy arose because Dustin was only notified about this some seven holes later. It all ended happily for Dustin in the end, as despite a penalty being applied after the round, he comfortably won his first Major.
The accumulative three-hole play-off between Anna Nordqvist and Brittany Lang took place over the 16th, 17th and 18th holes.
Both parred the 16th and both seemingly parred the next where Anna played her 5-iron second shot from a bunker.
However as the close-up, slow-motion camera shot showed, Anna had clearly dislodged a few grains of sand as she started her backswing, which would result in a two-shot penalty.
The ruling wasn’t in doubt, but the timing of when the USGA official told first Anna and then Brittany of the penalty certainly was.
With Anna having played her third shot to the 18th green, and with the pin cut just five paces from the left side of the green and water in front and to the left of the pin, Anna had understandably hit her shot well to the right side of the green, some 40 feet or so from the pin.
The rules official then told Brittany of Anna’s penalty just before she was about to play her third shot.
Brittany had planned to go directly at the pin reckoning that she needed a birdie to win.
However, having learned that she was actually two shots ahead of Anna, she sensibly took one more club and instead avoided the water and hit her ball well to the right of the pin, thinking that a par five would virtually guarantee her first Major victory.
Anna said afterwards that had she known about the penalty she would have attacked the pin.
Conversely, if the USGA official had waited until Brittany had played her third shot, then the manner in which they each played the final hole wouldn’t have been determined by the ruling.
At the time this was happening Juli Inkster who was commentating for Fox Sports, along with Paul Azinger, both felt very strongly that the USGA had made a huge mistake in the timing of delivery news.
We will never know if the outcome might have been different, had the players been told at the same stage of playing the 18th hole, but what isn’t in doubt, is that once again the USGA acted in a manner that might have affected the result of this great championship.
In their post-match interviews at no point did Anna openly criticise the USGA, she just said that she’d wished she’d known about the penalty before teeing off on the 18th hole, or certainly before playing her shot to the green.
I was very impressed by how Anna conducted herself afterwards when she just talked about the positives of her week – the first player ever to hit all 18 greens at a US Women’s Open in round one, the first player to score no worse than par on every hole during the final round of the US Women’s Open, and having the best round of the day by two shots in the final round of a Major.
Despite that, she clearly was upset when she first spoke immediately following play, and who wouldn’t be.