Apr
26
2017
Lexi Thompson faces media for first time since controversial ruling at ANA
By Stephanie Wei under LPGA

Lexi Thompson spoke with the media for the first time since her heartbreaking loss 24 days ago at the ANA Inspiration after incurring a four-stroke penalty that ultimately cost her the trophy at the LPGA’s opening major of the year. Ahead of this week’s Volunteers of America Texas Shootout, the 22-year-old American held an emotional press conference Wednesday afternoon and broke down in tears at one point as she started to answer a question about the controversial rules infraction that a “concerned” viewer spotted on the telecast from the previous day’s round and brought it to the attention of an LPGA rules official via email during Sunday’s final round.

“The hardest part, just going through it,” said Thompson. You know, that’s one of my favorite tournaments and it’s always a dream of mine to just see myself jumping into Poppy’s Pond. I mean, I’ve worked my whole life to have my name on major championship trophies, especially that one. It’s a very special week for me with all the history behind it and, you know, I played amazing that week. I don’t think I’ve ever played any better. Just for that to happen, it was just — it was kind of a nightmare.

Lexi, who claimed her first major title at the 2014 ANA Inspiration, was understandably shaken up when she was on the 13th hole Sunday with a three-shot lead and then blindsided when informed she was receiving a four-shot penalty incurred from an infraction from the day before.

“it was very hard for me those last five holes but I knew I could do it,” said Lexi, who was visibly emotional. “My caddie helped me out, always just reinforcing that I could still win it and I was playing amazing golf. It was tough.

“I’ve never cried so much on a golf course on every shot. But to have the fans out there always cheering me on on every shot, I had a group of three little girls that followed me every single day and they high-fived me going to every tee. It’s just stuff like that helped me and just made me driven more to finish off the tournament well. And I knew I could do it, so I just tried to stay positive.”

Though almost a month has past since the truly unfortunate debacle, Lexi is clearly still reeling from the debacle and hasn’t been able to put it to rest and move forward. Watching the video of the presser and reading the transcript, along with reports from the half a dozen journalists that were in attendance, it appears Lexi and her team have wrestled with accepting the ruling and the result.

Naturally, Lexi was asked to explain her train of thought as she went to mark the one-foot putt on the 17th hole during the third round at the ANA — the scene of the alleged and now infamous rules breach, which ignited massive controversy in the golf world.

“I had about 15-, 20-footer for birdie and I hit a terrible first putt,” said Thompson. “And I got up to it, thought about tapping it in, but I was pretty mad after my first putt because I put a terrible
stroke on it.

“My dad always told me I’ve missed a lot of putts by just going up and tapping them in. I’ve stubbed a few and done all that. So let’s just relax, mark the putt, this is a major championship, you don’t need to go up and miss this little putt. So I went and marked it and just took my time, took my practice stroke and took a deep breath and made sure I made it.”

For sake of clarity (though fairly certain everyone is well aware of the details), Lexi marked the tap-in putt, but then moved it a half an inch to an inch from its original position when she replaced it. While just about everyone is in agreement that she didn’t intend to commit an infraction, the general consensus — which includes many of her fellow LPGA pros — is that she did indeed violate the rule. And it also seems like the majority believe the two extra penalty strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard was unnecessary, but the main concern and outrage is with TV vigilantism (and rightly so, IMHO).

As I’ve emphasized in every post on this topic, Rule 20-7c might seem silly to recreational golfers, but it is very important and integral to the game. The main “argument” from the peanut gallery has been that there was no intention and she didn’t gain an advantage. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t think there was anything malicious or ill-intentioned in Lexi’s actions, but there are current/former PGA Tour pros who have reputations as “cheaters” for developing the habit of not replacing their ball properly. For example, a player might slide the mark under the ball, but then upon replacing it, he/she puts it a few centimeters in front of the mark. Players have also been known to be “loose” or “sloppy” in replacing their ball to avoid a spike mark or indentation on the green.

Lexi did not see the video of the infraction before or after the playoff at the ANA, which she ultimately lost to So Yeon Ryu on the second extra hole. However, she has watched it since then. When asked if she believed she committed an infraction, Lexi did not give a direct answer.

“It was not my intention at all,” said Thompson. “I went up, marked it. Like I said, I did not
want to go up and rush that putt. And the way I mark my ball, I mark my ball with a dot and
that’s where I focus my eyes on where I want to make contact. So when I went to mark it, I
just rotated my ball to line up my dot to where my putter would make contact.”

Later in the presser, Lexi was asked again to explain the movement of her ball in relation to where she originally marked it.

“I have seen the video and I can see where they’re coming from with it. It might have been, I guess, me rotating the ball. But like I said, I’ve always played by the Rules of Golf. Growing up with two older brothers, they were always on me for playing by the Rules of Golf. There’s no need for me to improve anything.

“Those greens were absolutely perfect and the whole week there was nothing in my line to be moving it from or anything. So I have no reason behind it. I did not mean it at all.”

As the presser came to a close, the last question was another one regarding the way she marked her ball — which her fellow LPGA pros described as “loose” or “sloppy” in that particular occasion, according to Golfweek’s report — and if she planned to change anything.

“I’m going to just continue marking my ball,” said Lexi.


 

While Anna Nordqvist, who was embroiled in a rule controversy that cost her chance during a playoff against Brittany Lang at the U.S. Women’s Open last summer, was quick to acknowledge and accept her mistake (a penalty that I consider way more absurd and unjustified), Lexi and her team seem adamant to continue pursuing the “case” and unrelenting in feeling that the conclusion of the ANA remains up in the air.

According to GolfChannel.com’s Randall Mell, Lexi’s agent Bobby Kreusler was pressuring the LPGA late last week to reveal the identity of the TV viewer, insisting on a “true and transparent” account of the details that led the individual to email the LPGA and report Lexi’s infraction.

“The field and all of the LPGA players are deserving of knowing exactly how the email happened, who was responsible, so we can make sure it was an honest, fair and equitable playing field for all,” Kreusler said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have that feeling right now and there are an awful lot of people out there who feel exactly the same way.”

Mell also spoke to several players who don’t think this strategy is beneficial to Lexi.

“For Lexi’s sake, we need to move on,” two-time major champion Stacy Lewis said. “I know she’s had some trouble dealing with everything. If she can handle this the right way, it can completely change the way people look at her. It can be better than winning a major, if she handles it the right way, and if her team handles it the right way. So, for her sake I hope they can do that.”

Karrie Webb echoed similar sentiments:

“…To move on from the ANA, I think her team just needs to let it go,” Webb said. “She can’t move on from it if everyone around her is talking about it still.

“Having an investigation, what do you get out of that, besides prolonging it all? It still doesn’t mean she will win the ANA championship. It doesn’t give her that, so what is the point?”

 

That’s a very good point. Nothing to win and/or gain by continuing to pursue an investigation or seek “justice” for Lexi. I don’t think there’s a soul who doesn’t feel for Lexi, who demonstrated grace and class in the moment. It was an incredibly unfortunate and heart-wrenching situation, especially the timing and the way the incident played out, but what’s done is done.


 

With regard to the USGA and R&A’s announcement Tuesday of the new rule, which was being dubbed as the “Lexi rule,” it appears that LPGA pros have similar concerns and sentiments about it as I expressed in my post yesterday. According to a report by Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols, the players are confused and irked about the lack of clarity and the potential for more controversy in this new Decision 34-3/10, which has been put into effect immediately.

“It really just put more clouds up in the air,” said (Stacy) Lewis. “It didn’t really clarify anything. It created more judgements. I don’t think it changed Lexi’s (Thompson) ruling at all.”

I highly recommend reading Beth Ann’s full story, which is excellent and provides multiple perspectives from players.

As I wrote a day after the incident earlier this month, I think the USGA and R&A should do away with TV vigilantism altogether. Yesterday, I said if they won’t ban it, then there should at least be a statute of limitations to viewer call-ins.

Lexi certainly isn’t a fan of the practice.

“Golf is the only sport that call-ins are available to,” she said. “And do I think it’s right? Not really, but it’s not my say. We’ll see what happens in the future about it.”