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At Pinehurst, a loaded question: "Is this a bunker?"

By John Huggan

By John Huggan

PINEHURST, N.C. -- The players weren't the only group indulging in reconnaissance trips around Pinehurst No. 2 Tuesday morning. Also out and about were rules officials John Paramor of the European Tour and the R&A's David Rickman. And it wasn't long before the pair was involved in detailed discussion with a four-ball consisting of Scotland's Chris Doak, Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and Keegan Bradley.
The subject at hand was predictable and one that will surely be a big part of the upcoming U.S. Open: Off the fairway, what is a bunker and what is "waste area"?
The bunker short and right of the second green provided an ideal example of where confusion -- like that which Johnson famously confronted on the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits -- can set in. While the vast majority of the bunker's outline is easily identifiable, there is maybe a six-foot wide section at its rear where the margin of the hazard is less clear-cut.

Placing a small marker down within the grey area, both Paramor and Rickman expressed the hope that a player finding his ball in such a spot will immediately ask for a referee (one of whom will be walking with every group) to make the final decision -- in or out? In that way, the player will be absolved from blame, even if the official makes a mistake.
In fact, as Paramor was quick to half-jokingly point out, the making of such an error is never going to happen. In this instance, the verdict of the referee is, after all, inevitably going to be nothing more than an expert opinion -- not a definitive statement of fact. Absolute certainty is impossible when the ball is right between the edges of what is clearly a bunker and what is equally clearly waste area.
"This sort of thing isn't ever going to be a matter of right or wrong," he said. "So no one is ever going to be able to say definitively one way or the other."
All of which is good news for those players -- are you listening, Dustin? -- who ask for advice when there is even a scintilla of doubt in their minds.