In retrospect, maybe the most interesting part is that we didn’t really know the firestorm that was brewing after our group left the 12th tee. We were just walking along watching and scoring some incredible golf. A couple of reporters were on their phones following Twitter and other social media so we had some notion, but not nearly the full picture of how the rest of the golf world was exploding.
Of course we now know the drama at Oakmont started on the par four 5th hole. The standard bearer and the “scoring supervisor” stayed up on the 6th tee rather than walk down to that hole. But Lee Westwood hit his approach shot short of the green and I couldn’t quite tell where it was, so I walked up with the three rules guys and stood with them on one of the mounds just left of the green. That turned out to be a fortunate thing. Mark Newell was the senior rules guy (and USGA Executive Committee member) who went out to the green to confer with DJ and Westwood. When he walked back to us, I confirmed there was no penalty and even confirmed the stroke DJ was about to hit.
When we got to the 12th hole, USGA officials held all the media back near the edge of the 11th green when we walked up… I didn’t think much of that since it’s a pretty tight space anyway. The standard bearer and I walked up to the tee and overheard most of the conversation. I wasn’t paying that much attention at the beginning so I missed any reference to WHAT they were talking about. When I heard them say “we’ll have you review the video after the round before you sign your card” I started listening a lot more closely. We assumed it was about the 5th hole, but it wasn’t totally clear in the moment since I didn’t start eavesdropping in earnest until halfway through their chat.
Again I asked Mark Newell after the talk, is there anything I need to know for scoring purposes? He said “no.”
As the players and caddies walked off the 12th tee I fell in line behind the rules team… and Westwood dropped back to us. He was angry. He said something very much like this: “If you’re wondering who made the ball move on the green I’d vote it was the USGA. You have greens running at 16 on the stimpmeter and you put the holes on these little nobs and bumps, so if you’re looking for what made the ball move I’d look less at Dustin and more at yourselves.” Not those exact words, but very, very close to that. And he wasn’t quiet about it.
After that we got to see some fantastic golf from DJ and besides the regular madness of scoring a guy late on Sunday in contention – more reporters and media inside the ropes, etc. – it wasn’t that different except for people in the grandstands yelling “Come on let ’em play, ref” and somewhat hilarious stuff like that.
A TV guy’s radio went on and off – always one of my fears because of that ridiculous noise it makes going back on – just as DJ was about to hit his approach on 18. Dustin backed off, stared at the TV crew in the middle of the fairway and barked: “Really bro? Really?” Then he turned and proceeded to stuff the ball right behind the pin. That was pretty much the moment I felt that no matter what the penalty was – a stroke? two strokes? none? – Dustin Johnson had probably just won the U.S. Open.
The standard bearer and I were at the foot of the steps behind 18 as Westwood walked off… DJ took a good bit longer. We realized we were standing next to Bubba Watson holding his son and then I noticed Jack Nicklaus was standing on the other side of him. (I didn’t realize until later that the USGA was naming the gold medal for the champion after him, so it was both cool and shocking to see him there.) Again, bonus material for me because we clearly overheard Nicklaus – while embracing DJ – say how proud of him he was “especially with all the crap the USGA threw at you.” Never thought I’d hear “crap” and “USGA” in that voice in the same sentence. Haha.
We followed DJ up over the bridge and into the SWAT room in the Oakmont clubhouse. After Mike Davis and the USGA rules team guided him into a private room I stood and waited. Westwood was sitting at the scoring table and looked up at me and asked if I’d walked in with Dustin. I said “yes.” He asked me where he was now. I said he was in the room behind the closed door and pointed. He leaped out of his seat and, no joke, said, “Oh that’s bullshit I’m his official marker, I should be in that room too” and knocked on the door and disappeared.
You really do have to respect Lee Westwood… for that, and for a bunch of smaller reasons that unfolded over the round and especially the back nine. It was fairly obvious early on that he was no longer in contention to win after a rough start, but he played quickly and stayed out of Dustin’s way because it was clear that Dustin was right in the thick of things.
After they came back and reviewed and signed the official score cards I had DJ sign the paper copy of the score sheet we keep. He was extremely nice to everyone. It very much seemed to me that Westwood was a lot more upset than Dustin ever was about everything – at least expressively. Austin Johnson asked what I was going to do with the signed sheets and I told him eventually I’d probably frame them and hang them in my office. He asked if I was going to change the score before framing it. My response: “Lee Westwood and I both have him shooting a 68, that may have changed after the fact but that’s the score I kept and the one I’ll frame.”
“Yes, bro. Just yes. I’m going to tell him that hangs in your office one day as a 68. Yes,” was the response I got.
It was pretty amazing being on the green for the presentation ceremony too. We met Paulina, Jack Nicklaus, and got photos with Dustin… but that’s not really the golf story out of all this.
This was a special experience on a golf course I’ve played and marveled at before… and a day where the game truly loved me back a bit.