PGA – ALLOWING VIEWERS TO ACT AS REFEREES HAS GOT TO STOP

Picture this:  It is Sunday afternoon during the final round of the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year.  And, Lexi Thompson, one of the best players in the world is up 2 strokes on the nearest competitor after 54 holes.  But, as she walks off the 12th green, a rules official stops her and suddenly informs her that she has been assessed a 4-stroke penalty for an infraction she caused YESTERDAY (Saturday) at the 17th hole.  Oh, and by the way, they tell her that a home viewer emailed in to let them know about it after her 3rd round was already in the books.

Thompson is in shock, upset, angry and begins to tear up in front of the world.  She tries to process this information, knowing that she didn’t do anything wrong and there is nothing at that moment she can do to appeal her case.  But, she tries to remain calm realizing that she must quickly formulate a new strategy, for she is now in a 2-stroke deficit with 6 holes to play…. Unfortunately, while she manages to rally her way back to a playoff hole, Thompson winds up losing her first major championship bid of 2017.

Think this story is made up?  Well, it’s not.

This scenario unfolded exactly like that earlier this month for the 22-year old Lexi Thompson, America’s top ranked women’s player.

According to an April 3 Golf.com article, the LPGA received an email from a home viewer “when the final group was on the 7th hole on Sunday” informing them “that Lexi Thompson did not properly replace her ball prior to putting out on the 17th hole” during her 3rd round on Saturday.

Unaware of the infraction, the LPGA immediately investigated the claim and after a “full [2 hour] review”, determined that Thompson did, in fact, improperly mark her ball on the 17th green and breached Rule 20-7c (Playing From Wrong Place).  They handed her a 2-stroke penalty under Rule 16-1b and she also incurred an additional 2-stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d for “returning an incorrect scorecard in round 3”.

Now, there are so many things wrong with this, I don’t know where to start.

I guess I’ll first go to the place that upsets me the most about this matter: the fan interaction.

How is it that people who are not associated with the LPGA or PGA have the ability to nark on players about rules infractions, and directly influence the sport?

I can’t find it anywhere within my being that this is a good idea, or even an acceptable one.  Only persons properly trained to catch infractions on the course should be the ones calling them.  Or, players should self-report.  End of story.

People who have nothing to do with golf should not be allowed to throw a little red flag from their couch and affect a player’s outcome.

Yet, it happens all the time on both the PGA and LPGA Tours.

What’s worse is that both Tours allow infractions to count against players after their rounds are over.

The major problem with this is the fact that at the end of every round, each player must sign their scorecard confirming the shots made at each hole and their cumulative score.

So, if a player unknowingly violates a rule during their round and is not assessed a penalty at the time they certify their scorecard, they inadvertently sign-off on a wrong score.

How on Earth, then,  is it fair to consider that the player “returned an incorrect scorecard” when they unknowingly did so?

In Thompson’s case, The Big Lead reported that “at the time [of her 3rd round], Thompson and officials on-site saw nothing wrong and she signed her scorecard after her round”.

That extra 2-shot penalty likely cost her the tournament.  (Ironically, under the previous rule, Thompson would have been disqualified altogether, rather than just receiving extra punishment.)

What’s even worse is the timing of when the LPGA decided to inform Thompson about her ex post facto 4-shot penalty: almost two-thirds into her final round.  This is totally unjustifiable.

Thompson thought she had an advantage on the field, when she suddenly didn’t.  If she would have had the opportunity to know about the penalty before she started her final round, she may have adopted a different strategy to win the tournament.

Also, it seems very unreasonable of the LPGA to shock Thompson with that kind of news in the middle of her round, especially during a highly stressful major championship.

Golf is as much a mental game as it is physical.  Players are not just robots who can shirk off emotions in the matter of minutes.

Did they think Thompson would just pivot on a dime and everything would be ok?

NEW RULES

Luckily, Thompson’s situation at the ANA is an issue that is being addressed by the new rules changes the USGA is considering for 2019.

What would be a new Rule 1.3a(2) indicates that the Tours would rely upon player integrity involving questions over where the player placed the ball on the green, even after “video technology” is uncovered “later”:

Whenever required to estimate or measure a spot, point, line, area or distance, the player’s reasonable judgment would be accepted if: The player did all that could be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make a prompt and accurate estimation or measurement. This means that the player’s reasonable judgment would be upheld even if later shown to be wrong by other information [such as video technology].” 

It goes on to say that the player will not receive any penalty under these circumstances:

So long as the player did all that could be reasonably expected under the circumstances:

– The player gets no penalty for any small inaccuracies, irrespective of any advantage gained.

Accepting a player’s reasonable judgment would limit “second-guessing” that can arise from the use of enhanced technology (such as video review when golf is televised).”

Bravo.  Now, let’s see this rule pass and get going as soon as possible.

SUGGESTIONS

Even though new rules changes may help limit debacles like we saw with Thompson, perhaps it’s time to assign real “Officials” to each player whose job it is to look out for penalties.  Maybe they should even have those little “flags” like NFL officials carry and throw them when they see a problem.  If, at the end of the player’s round, no flag is thrown – the round is officially scored as is.

If not, and the Tour(s) plan to keep the process of assessing penalties after the fact, then it should be done before the start of the player’s next round, for fairness.

Thus, if the LPGA was unaware of Thompson’s 3rd round infraction prior to the start of her 4th round, well then it would have been too late for them to penalize her after the fact.

In the very least, if they continue with this ridiculous procedure, players should have a chance to appeal their case.

In Thompson’s situation, she should have had the opportunity to discuss this matter with the governing body.  When that time was/is appropriate, is up for debate.

However, it seems reasonable that Thompson should have had a few moments to walk off the course and be able to discuss this with the LPGA before continuing.  If not, both parties should have held a hearing after the tournament.  It only seems fair.

In the end, this and similar controversial matters may be restricted over time by the USGA Rules that are currently being modernized.

But, the ridiculous notion that fans are able to alert Tour officials about players’ infractions has to end.  In no other sport does this happen and, it undermines the basic principles of sportsmanship and integrity that defines the game of golf.

 

 

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