By Shane Ryan
The scene: Dustin Johnson, leading the 2018 FedEx St Jude Classic on the 18th at TPC Southwind on Sunday, stood over his ball about 170 yards from the hole. The moment would be more dramatic if the tournament was close, but in fact Johnson had a four-shot cushion, and by this point the event was effectively over. Still, he had one last piece of magic up his sleeve — a final dramatic act, even in the absence of real competitive drama:
Not long after that eagle 2 on the par-4 finishing hole, a plaque was put in place to commemorate the walk-off shot. Not on the tee, or in the clubhouse, but on the course itself, in the exact square of grass where Johnson hit his 9-iron.
“From this spot,” it read, “Dustin Johnson holed a 9-iron to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic and return to #1 in the World. June 10, 2018.”
Judging by the date of the Facebook post below, it was installed sometime between the end of the tournament in June and the following September.
However, when they play the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs here at TPC Southwind this week, players and fans searching for the marker will be out of luck. The plaque is no longer in the rough along the 18th hole.
So what happened? Was it stolen? Where did the plaque go, and why was it taken away? The easy impulse is to chalk it up to the PGA Tour removing the memento after DJ’s move to LIV Golf and his subsequent resignation from the tour. His name has been scrubbed from the career money list, so making sure it’s not permanently etched into the ground at a playoff venue would seem a reasonable extension, no? Plus, you don’t necessarily want to celebrate the heroics of a guy who now plays for your sworn rival, particularly during the playoffs.
In fact, PGA Tour representatives said it wasn’t their call — and weren’t even aware that the plaque was gone. They facilitated inquiries to the club to get to the bottom of the vanishing plaque, and after a day and a half of unreturned calls from the superintendent’s office, Burt Baine, the general manager at TPC Southwind, came through with the story. According to Baine, it’s not as exciting as it may have seemed at first glance.
Turns out, there was course construction scheduled in the autumn of 2019, at which point the plaque was removed in order to accommodate the machines. New bunkers were placed alongside the fairway, and one of the bunkers happened to go in the exact spot where Johnson hit his shot. The plaque was actually replaced following construction anyway, but was no longer in the correct spot. That state of affairs continued for two-and-a-half years, until spring 2022, when Baine said they finally decided to remove the plaque permanently due to its inaccuracy. Baine couldn’t give me the exact date of the removal, but thought it happened sometime in May — and insisted that it had nothing to do with Johnson’s move to LIV golf, which became official May 31.
Today, Baine said, the plaque is stored in a maintenance building somewhere on the course — “I don’t think we’d have thrown it out” —but now that there’s a bunker in the spot where Johnson hit his 9-iron, we shouldn’t expect to see it ever again. And though the decision was apparently not influenced by LIV Golf, one suspects that deep down, the tour won’t be terribly upset to see this particular piece of history buried in a shed, safely out of public view.
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