The golf world reacted via social media with outrage and harsh words Sunday evening during the final round of the ANA Inspiration, the first women’s major of the year. This is yet another incident of golf getting in its own way and looking stupid and lame to casual sports fans who already have that impression of the game.
Walking off the 12th green with the lead, Lexi Thompson was informed she was receiving a four-shot penalty for infractions from the third round. A TV viewer notified the LPGA via email that Thompson had marked her ball and improperly replaced it before tapping-in a one-footer on the 17th hole a day earlier. She received two strokes for the incorrect ball placement and then another two shots for signing an incorrect scorecard — the whole situation was absurd, but the latter was more flagrant since she didn’t know at the time.
Despite Lexi’s impressive ability to fight back and respond with back-to-back birdies after receiving the devastating news, she eventually lost in an one-hole playoff to So Yeon Ryu. In other words, this retroactive, unbelievably delayed infraction late in the final round of a major championship cost Thompson the major title.
The LPGA released the following statement:
On Sunday afternoon, the LPGA received an email from a television viewer, saying that Lexi Thompson did not properly replace her ball prior to putting out on the 17th hole during Saturday’s third round of the ANA Inspiration. The claim was quickly investigated by LPGA Rules officials.
After a full review, it was determined that Thompson breached Rule 20-7c (Playing From Wrong Place), and received a two-stroke penalty. She incurred an additional two-stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d for returning an incorrect scorecard in round three. She was immediately notified of the breach by LPGA Rules Committee in between holes 12 and 13 of the final round.
I’ve seen my share of infuriating and absurd situations with the Rules of Golf, but nothing is worse than the after-the-fact, delayed “call-ins” from armchair rules officials. But let’s clarify something because I’m really sick of this “random golf fan” narrative: Unless there is a hotline that only golf nerds who truly have no lives know about, I’d bet big money that the concerned “viewer” who emailed the LPGA was an off-duty rules official on a major tour and/or an insider rules expert. Obviously, at this time, I’m speculating, but in the past six or seven years, I’ve seen way too many of these incidents and spoken to officials who have confirmed as much.
*UPDATE: According to Beth Ann Nichols’ report, LPGA rules official Sue Witters, who informed Lexi of the penalty, said the email from the viewer was not someone known to her.
For example, let’s not forget the most high-profile improper drop in the history of the game that occurred just about four years ago at Augusta National during the second round of the 2013 Masters with Tiger Woods’ infamous infraction on the 15th hole. Cripes, that was a controversial fiasco, but Woods was spared the two-stroke penalty since Fred Ridley, the tournament’s competition committee chairman, basically disregarded the info that he received via a rules official that had gotten a phone call from Champions Tour player David Eger, “one of the most experienced tournament officials in U.S. golf and an expert on the rules.” Tiger actually outed himself with his remarks in his post-round interview on TV. I won’t go through the whole saga since it’ll take too much space, but I bring it up because it is not the same scenario, but it’s along the same lines.
Tiger starred in several controversial rules issues in 2013. Later that same year in September during the BMW Championship, this happened. Woods was never shy about his issues with “viewer” call-in penalties and made his point loud and clear, which almost certainly influenced the USGA and R&A, golf’s governing bodies, to tweak the rule later that year. However, while they minimized the impact of armchair (or off-duty) rules officials by protecting players for being penalized for a ball moving at rest that can only be spotted via HD, slo-mo replays, stating that the “movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time”.
Obviously, the change was a start, but it failed short of eradicating off-duty, armchair rules official vigilantism. This most recent situation with Lexi was glaring proof of the flaws. Look, from a rules standpoint, it does appear that she didn’t replace the properly, and I’m sure it was an accident and it didn’t influence the outcome of the tap-in putt, but these little things are generally frowned upon by competitive golfers. Like, there ARE Tour players who had or have a reputation of habitually improperly replacing their ball.
For instance, perhaps a guy will slide the coin slightly under the ball, but then when he replaces it, he’ll place the ball a few centimeters in front of the mark, etc. The argument there is that those centimeters add up and even if it helps the player mentally, it’s still “cheating.” I’ve definitely seen it happen in person by a high-profile player and eventual champion in a high-profile tournament in recent years. Just saying. Again, I’m not saying that it applies to Lexi in this particular incident, as it would appear she was just a little nonchalant. And I know it’s also technically impossible to replace the ball PRECISELY to the original spot, blah, blah. That’s getting into semantics a bit too much for me. I repeat: I think the penalties were absolute garbage and Lexi shouldn’t be given all those strokes a day later — she was completely robbed. You know, all the rational arguments, but I also do see it from a viewpoint that this rule is abused, albeit rarely. Easy fix: Get rid of TV viewer vigilantism!
It’s unclear when the viewer email was originally sent and to whom at the LPGA. I guess given that it was an email, there’s a slight chance it was indeed a random golf nut who needs to find a hobby. I guess if we give the LPGA the benefit of the doubt, it was sent and received Sunday afternoon. But I mean, the whole thing — WTF??
After Lexi was notified about the FOUR-SHOT penalty between the 12th and 13th holes, the AP reported:
“Is this a joke?” Thompson asked.
After being assured it wasn’t, she responded, “This is ridiculous.”
Thompson appeared to choke up slightly but gathered herself and mashed a drive, eventually posting a birdie on the par-4 13th hole.
I wasn’t watching live at the moment since I actually decided to enjoy this particular Sunday until my Twitter feed blew up and of course I had to stop everything and tune in and chime in with my own two cents and outrage.
Here’s an easy fix: GET RID OF SO-CALLED TV VIEWERS CALLING/TEXTING/EMAILING these rules infractions altogether. DISREGARD THESE FRANTIC RULES NUTS WHO FEEL LIKE ITS THEIR DUTY AND CAN’T LIVE WITH THEMSELVES IF THEY DON’T REPORT IT. Just don’t let it happen. It only makes golf look stupid(er) to sports fans and it stirs strong critiques from Tour players and the biggest golf fans. It’s easy. Let’s not slow play this one, please, USGA and R&A. Please. We’re begging you. You want to “grow the game,” right? This is one way to help and stop turning people away. Cool? OK, cool.
Good news and bad news is Masters week officially kicks off at 12am, two hours after the ANA Inspiration finally came to a close. So, the story will have a bit more legs than normal since it was absurd and cost Lexi, a high-profile young American player, a major championship, but it will also be quickly forgotten because the world quickly turns its attention to all things Masters starting Monday. I’ve been saying this for years, but it’s a disservice to the ladies and the women’s major because any coverage gets lost in Masters madness.
The tournament would receive more media outlets and publicity if it were simply moved a week earlier. Most golf journalists from major outlets and/or newspapers with the widest reach that cover the ANA are forced to leave the tournament early to travel to Augusta and juggle it with Masters stories (which unfortunately will almost always outweigh anything from the ladies’ major).
And trust me, there’s no easy way to get to Palm Springs, California, and there’s also no easy route to get to Augusta, Georgia. Perhaps it’s easier said than done, but it would be better for all parties involved, the sponsor, the tournament, the LPGA, the players, etc., if the event were moved up a week earlier, so there’s breathing room to celebrate/discuss/debate a major women’s championship before diving into the Masters.
No surprise the PGA Tour pros watching coverage of the ANA Inspiration reacted on Twitter with harsh words. I mean, I don’t remember the last time Tiger Woods tweeted anything in real life. I didn’t even know he tweeted anything on his own, but we do know he has a strong take on the role of these rules vigilantes watching from home and interfering with a tournament.
Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes. Let’s go @Lexi, win this thing anyway.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 3, 2017
From what I saw, Peter Uihlein appears to be the unanimous winner in tweets.
Am I seriously watching Lexi be given a 4 stroke penalty in the middle of a tournament? What the heck did I just see? — Peter Uihlein (@PeterUihlein) April 2, 2017
USGA butchered a ruling last year and the ANA invitational just saying “you think that was dumb? Watch this shit”
— Peter Uihlein (@PeterUihlein) April 2, 2017
Of course, Uihlein is referring to the embarrassing and different but equally outrageous and infuriating situation involving Dustin Johnson at last year’s U.S. Open.
He also had a back-and-forth “debate” with European Tour player Bernd Wiesberger:
This goes to my point that it’s almost always an insider or “off-duty” rules official who calls/texts his buddy. The email thing throws me off a bit, but perhaps he/she isn’t close enough with any LPGA officials? Again, I’m speculating, but no such number exists.
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) April 3, 2017
Who the F#*k is sitting at home zooming in on that stuff?? — Shane Lowry (@ShaneLowryGolf) April 3, 2017
Preach! But like I keep saying, only off-duty rules officials!!!
Hope she wins & throws the trophy in Poppy’s Pond
— edward loar (@BigEinBigD) April 3, 2017
Win or lose @Lexi should do a cannonball into the pond on 18 as winner usually does.
— Nathan Smith (@DStick23) April 3, 2017
unreal what happened to lexi. pulling hard for her
— Bud Cauley (@BudCauley) April 3, 2017
where do you even find these numbers to call or emails to send Great point here by Hunter Mahan:
Signing of the scorecard and turning it in means nothing anymore. — Hunter Mahan (@HunterMahan)
“Oh hey I’m watching the World Series and that pitch was actually a strike, not a ball” “ok son you’re out” — John Peterson (@JohnPetersonPGA) April 3, 2017
Another rough day for the deep dark complex rules of golf. Simplification cannot come quick enough. — Graeme McDowell (@Graeme_McDowell) April 3, 2017
Callers shouldnt be able to call in and affect anything, so no penalty. Secondly, if they let callers affect it then she she be disqualified — Scott Piercy (@ScottPiercyPGA) April 3, 2017
Even J-Tim weighed in!
Lexi handled the loss as graciously as she could in the interview immediately after the playoff.
Shout-out to So Yeon Ryu, who handled the situation with the utmost class and poise. I wish I could find her post-round interview with Golf Channel’s Lisa Cornwell on Twitter, but it doesn’t appear to be posted at this time. Ryu is a lovely lady, and as Lisa pointed out, those of us Americans who know her are big fans of hers, as well.
Here’s the part of the transcript from the interview, though:
So Yeon Ryu – “I just cannot believe this situation. During the play I didn’t check the leaderboard. I thought Lexi played really, really well. I didn’t expect that, what happened to Lexi. It was a very unfortunate situation. I didn’t expect it. I thought I was well behind so all I wanted to do is just play my game. I was paired with my best friend Inbee Park today so I just wanted to play golf with her and have a good, strong finish…
“Every player is so dedicated. “We always work hard to bring our A-game out and we always respect our game. Lexi didn’t know about the situation so it hurts me as well. It is kind of a weird feeling but at the same time I’m really proud of myself. I’m really appreciative of everything right now.”
Here’s the post-tournament reaction from Judy Rankin and Mike Tirico:
Kudos to the Golf Channel Broadcast Team — it really doesn’t get any better than Tirico, Jerry Foltz, Karen Stupples, Lisa Cornwell, etc.
Unfortunately, this major will be remembered as the one where the absurd rules interfered and probably decided the championship, and not the one Ryu won, but I think she’s alright with it, as are other champions in history that fall in this category.
Oh, look at the time, it’s officially Masters week. What happened again?