Paul J. Sullivan

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The Trap Isn’t To Blame

Dustin Johnson lost his second major golf championship in the final round on Sunday, but this time the attention focused squarely on the rules official at the P.G.A. Championship who called Johnson for grounding his club in a sand trap. This is a no-no by the rules of golf, and Johnson was assessed a two-shot penalty – for touching the sand twice. Much of the talk centered on the call. Was it really a sand trap if fans are standing in it with you? Was this pretty pedantic call the best thing for a suffering sport, as Jason Gay asked?

What no one has talked about is Johnson  failed in the clutch for the second time this year. He choked coming down the 18th hole, and even though it was not as spectacular as how he choked at the U.S. Open in June, it had the same outcome: he lost.

Think of it this way. After rolling in a long birdie at the 17th hole, Johnson was leading the P.G.A. Championship by one stroke on the last tee. The smart play would have been to hit a club that would have put his tee shot into the fairway and get out of the hole with an unexciting par and the victory. This was what Lucas Glover did when he won the U.S. Open last year.  He hit a six-iron off the tee and a nine-iron to the green, where he two-putted for victory. Johnson choked right off the tee by hitting a Phil Mickelson-like drive into the gallery. The next shot flew over the green. The one after that came up short. Then he missed his par putt weakly to the right for a bogey – before the two shot penalty. What mattered was he did not control the situation, which is one of my definitions for choking at the highest level. Johnson had the ability to par that hole with more conservative shots but he did not do it. The pressure got to him.

This may not be any consolation for Johnson, but Bubba Watson choked just as badly on the last hole of the playoff: he tried to hit a hero shot that ended up in the water. (That he thinks the shot was the right one is troubling for his future chances at major tournament victories.) What did the winner, Martin Kaymer, do? He had a worse lie than Watson, and after watching him smack his shot into the water, Kaymer chipped his ball out about 20 yards, hit his next onto the green and two-putted for a bogey and the victory. It wasn’t a glorious finish. But it was a victory. And under pressure, you don’t get style points: you either succeed or fail.

Comments

  1. Blog // Paul Sullivan - NY Times Columnist and Author of Clutch  |  September 1st, 2010

    [...] including him, thought was a bunker - will be debated for quite some time. But as I said in this post, the bigger issue was him not controlling the moment. He choked on the tee box when he hit the [...]

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