January 28, 2022

A Classic Case of the Brain Getting Hijacked: Two Thumbs Up for Dustin Johnson

Picture of Dustin Johnson Hitting Out of Bunker

Dustin Johnson makes a brilliant shot out of what was deemed a "bunker" (looks like trampled grass and dirt to me) at the PGA Tour 2010

At 3:00 on Sunday afternoon, I turned to my husband as we watched the final round of the PGA championship, and said:  “Dustin Johnson is going to win this tournament.”  Of course, Mike just nodded like he was trying to appease me.

As Johnson closes in on the tournament, things start to turn.  He is in the lead on 17, and I am jumping around like a mad woman, and Mike reminds me that I am “calling it too soon”.  Darn…he was right.

If you didn’t watch the final round, you may have heard that  Johnson was leading until the 18th hole, when he lost a shot but gained a chance for a 3-way playoff for the championship.  But, when he headed to the clubhouse, the course of events drastically changed.   Johnson was informed by a PGA official that on hole 17, he hit his ball out of a bunker (which to me looked like a small piece of dirt…it looked like grass that had been trampled on all day and the dirt had just become exposed, and spectators were STANDING IN THE BUNKER, which I have NEVER seen in my life and I don’t recall seeing a rake.  Duh…all bunkers have a rake.  It looked like a waste bunker.  The spectators were all over DJ…trying to get as close to him as possible, he asked them calmly to move out of the way, and guess what he did…he grounded his club in the bunker.  The rules clearly stated that every piece of “dirt” was a bunker (and that basically the whole course was a bunker…if you see dirt, it’s a bunker)  and that grounding a club in the bunker is an automatic 2-stroke penalty.)  Geez!

This is a classic case of what we in the world of leadership coaching call brain hijacking.  I feel in my heart that this was the case for Johnson, because David Price, the rules official who followed Johnson around on Sunday reportedly told the press that DJ asked for bunker rulings on Nos. 14 and 16 on Sunday.  Dustin Johnson is no idiot.  He even admitted during his post interview that it never crossed his mind that this was a bunker he was standing in and that he should have “read the rules more closely.”  Here’s my take:  Johnson knew the rules, so in my own world, here is what I think really happened.

1.  Johnson knew he was in the lead.  His adrenaline was pumping.  He was excited.

2.  He approached the bunker, and the excitement and adrenaline probably hijacked his brain and he forgot about the bunker situation…this looked like dirt to him…an area that had been walked on multiple times by spectators.  Rules officials can’t give advice unless asked, and he just did not ask…it never crossed his mind this was a “bunker”.

3.  A huge crowd was pushing up against him.  He seemed really concerned about getting them out of the way…not only so that he could see but so that he would not hit someone with a club or a ball.

4.  You mix all of this together, and it really just did not cross his mind that he was in a bunker.  I doubt he had been in too many “bunkers” that looked like this mess of dirt.

5.  He went through his usual pre-shot routine, which includes grounding the club a bit.  (this is what caused him to get a 2-stroke penalty).

Was the PGA right in their ruling?  Maybe or maybe not.  It seems like they spelled out the rules that everything was a bunker, and at the end of the day, it does not matter what I think or what DJ thought…rules are rules.  If they had not penalized him, I am sure there would have been an uproar from the team and fans for Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson., both who ended up in a 3-hole playoff for the lead.  Congrats to Martin Kaymer for his great win!  (Way to go Gen Y!)

So, why am I talking about this as a leadership coach?  If you are in a leadership position, you are going to come up against high adrenaline, chaotic, people packed,  what do I do? moments….Times when you only have a fraction of a minute to make a decision, and it’s time to close your eyes and think.  Just step back for a moment and get in check with what’s going on.  Don’t let your team or the crowd or the rush of the moment make you end up with a big 2-stroke penalty (in this case for DJ, a few hundred thousand dollars!)

And…to close this off…I give DJ two thumbs up for admitting he should read the rules more closely next time and not making a stink.  When asked after the tournament: Do you think that’s a good ruling? Is it the ruling they had to make? Johnson said:  “I don’t know, if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have thought I was in the bunker but it’s not up to me, it’s up to the Rules Committee, so I’ve got to deal with it.”

Here’s a snippet of the video.  Watch and make your own decision, and leave your comments below:

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