Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Dustin Johnson and knowing the rules: A lesson for your employees

Rule 13.4 of the USGA’s Rules of Golf provides a two stroke penalty for grounding one’s club in a hazard. Certainly Dustin Johnson knew this rule when he approached his second shot on the final hole of Sunday’s PGA Championship leading by one. What he did not know was that trampled area in which his ball rested was a bunker. The two stroke penalty he incurred when he grounded his club cost him the tournament, his first major championship, a five-year tour exemption, and the more than $1M difference between first and fifth places.

His mistake was that he did not read the tournament rules, provided to him before the tournament started and conspicuously posted in the locker room: “All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during the play of the Championship. Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions.”

He did not run from his mistake. Instead, he took responsibility for not knowing the rules. From ESPN.com:

I just thought I was on a piece of dirt that the crowd had trampled down…. I never thought I was in a sand trap. It never once crossed my mind that I was in a bunker…. Obviously I know the rules of golf and I can’t ground my club in a bunker, but that was just one situation I guess. Maybe I should have looked to the rule sheet a little harder.

I cannot tell you how many depositions I’ve taken in which an employee tried to justify his or her misconduct by claiming not to have read the handbook. The common refrain: “No one reads those things.” Never mind their signatures on receipts stating that they read the handbook and had the opportunity to ask questions. Consider relaying Dustin Johnson’s story to your new employees during orientation. Maybe it will incent them to do what they should be doing in the first place—reading the handbook and asking questions.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.