Lexi Thompson's ANA Inspiration penalty is another major blunder for golf
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- With apologies to Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address, history will little note nor long remember that So Yeon Ryu won the 2017 ANA Inspiration in a sudden-death playoff with Lexi Thompson.
The stain that will always hang over this tournament is that for the third time in less than a year, one of golf's major championships was marred by a rules situation that could have been avoided. This time, Thompson was the victim. It cost her a second title at the ANA, for moving her ball less than an inch.
Someone who apparently has little going on in their life sent an email to the LPGA fan website during Sunday's final round, pointing out that Thompson had misplaced her marked ball on No. 17 in Saturday's third round.
That email arrived as Thompson and Suzann Pettersen were on No. 9 on Sunday, playing in the final twosome of the day. Two rules officials went to the TV compound to study the tape and as Thompson walked off No. 12 green with a two-stroke lead, she was notified she'd been penalized four strokes.
Two of those strokes were for returning her ball to a wrong spot and two strokes were for signing a scorecard for a 67 instead of a 69. So her third-round score ended up as a 71. Before a 2016 rules change, Thompson would have been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. So golf has that going for it.
The large, enthusiastic galleries at Mission Hills Country Club rallied around Thompson when word of the penalty spread. "Lexi! Lexi! Lexi!" they chanted as she walked to the 18th green brushing away tears.
"The fans were amazing," Thompson said after Ryu birdied the first playoff hole for the victory. "They got me through the whole round."
In one of the more remarkable things I've ever seen at a major -- and I've been to 151 men's and women's majors combined -- was that Thompson birdied the very next hole after being informed of the penalty, knocking in a 25-foot putt to massive roars, and then also birdied No. 15 to briefly regain the lead.
"I just tried to gather myself to hit that drive," Thompson said about her emotions on No. 13 tee. "I learned a lot about myself today and what I have in me. I'm proud of the way I played coming in."
We all learned a lot about Thompson -- who signed autographs for fans for a half hour after losing in the playoff -- and we all got another chance to learn about the ways in which golf needs to look at its rules. Once again, golf has to explain how the cumbersome rules of the game got in the way of a major championship.
At last year's U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson was told on No. 12 tee that he might be penalized for causing his ball to move on No. 5 green. He was assessed two strokes -- although he was not told until his round was over -- but bailed out the U.S. Golf Association by winning anyway.
The U.S. Women's Open a few weeks later went to a three-hole aggregate playoff between Brittany Lang and Anna Nordqvist and Nordqvist was given a two-stroke penalty for inadvertently touching the sand with her club in a bunker. That violation was also determined on TV and Nordqvist lost by two strokes.
And now this.
Thompson, who was playing beautifully and appeared to be steamrolling to victory, had just made her first bogey of the day and only her second of the week when she found out about the penalty.
"That's just ridiculous," Thompson said to a rules official near No. 12 green when informed of the penalty. Twitter agreed.
Morgan Pressel, who won this tournament in 2007, tweeted:
Wrote former PGA Tour player Arron Oberholser:
Brittany Lincicome, the ANA winner in 2009 and 2015, tweeted:
And Tiger Woods was apparently glued to his TV. He chimed in with:
Woods was a victim of a viewer call-in penalty at the 2013 Masters.
Sue Witters, the LPGA vice president for rules and competitions, said the ball was misplaced by "maybe an inch." And she added: "I'm 100 percent certain it was not intentional. Lexi is a class lady."
Asked if she was aware that the overwhelming reaction on social media was negative, Witters said: "Sure, but what was my choice? I ignore a violation of the rule then I get criticized for that. It made me sick but I had to do it."
There is an easy way to keep things like this from happening. I oppose letting viewers call in -- or email in -- rules violations. Have a rules official whose job it is to watch the broadcast and leave it at that. If that person finds something, fine. If not, let's go on with our lives.
Another weirdness of golf: A violation of the rules on Saturday can be assessed on Sunday but a violation on Sunday cannot be assessed on Monday. "The competition is closed," \Witters says. "It's a done deal."
How about calling no penalties the next day?
The USGA and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the governing bodies of the game, say they want to modernize the Rules of Golf. Here's a tip for where to start: No harm, no foul. What Thompson did on No. 17 on Saturday did not impact the competition one bit, just as Johnson's inadvertent movement of his ball at Oakmont gained no competitive advantage.
Use some common sense. This was an embarrassment for golf and a painful experience for Thompson that did not have to happen. Just stop it.