There should be no room in this sport for television viewers to determine the outcome of a tournament – such as last weekend
THIS is Masters week. It’s that time of the season when the men’s first Major of the season is sought out at Augusta National Golf Club by the best players in the world.
This year, though, the lead-up to the showpiece in Georgia was diluted with the rumblings in the aftermath of the ANA Inspiration championship in Rancho Mirage, California – the first Major on the women’s calendar.
It was there that with six holes to play and a useful three-shot lead in hand, American Lexi Thompson was advised by rules officials that she incurred a four-stroke penalty for a misdemeanour in the third round, the day before.
As one would have expected, the backlash was as fierce as it was relentless on social media.
The saga started with a television viewer notifying the LPGA Tour that Thompson had not properly replaced her ball after marking it on the 17th green in the third round.
With this TV evidence in hand, rules officials on the course advised Thompson of the consequences during the fourth and last day. At that stage, the 22-year-old had a three-shot lead, which effectively became a one-stroke deficit.
For the record, Thompson registered three birdies from there in and forced her way into a playoff with So Yeon Ryu. The Korean then secured her second Major title with a birdie at the first extra hole.
But that was far from the end of it. Social media was awash with all sorts of things that could and should be done to eradicate the sport of what they perceived to be an unfair practice.
It should be mentioned though that some people out there are of the opinion that if the rules were breached, as the LPGA officials determined and pointed out to Thompson, then the punishment metered should be accepted without much ado – which is how the American took it – as painful as it might have been.
But by and large, the sentiments expressed in the wake of the incident were sympathetic towards Thompson, with others rather vicious in their attacks on the LPGA establishment. Some claimed that to punish the player a day later was “over the top” and “just too much” to handle, more so as the alert to the infringement came from some unnamed person watching it on television.
Moral support for Thompson also came from professional golfers, including women’s world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand and former men’s world No. 1 Tiger Woods.
The 14-time Major champion knows exactly how if feels as he himself experienced a situation like that when he was penalised two strokes for hitting from the wrong spot in the 2013 Masters.
Woods’ penalty also came a day after the deed was done and only saw the light of day after a television viewer advised the Tour of the infringement.
Similarly, another LPGA former world number one, Stacy Lewis was docked two strokes after her caddy was spotted on television in 2013 testing the sand of a bunker.
But the question here is, what can the authorities do about this and how best can they resolve these issues without causing further embarrassment?
One suggestion would be to put a limit on the time when a call to investigate and/or administer punishment for an infringement is made. That is to say, maybe two hours after the completion of the round. That would be to make it part of the Rules of Golf.
Not so long the R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA), the custodians of the game worldwide, declared a six-month period in which interested parties could send in comments and offer input for their proposed changes to the Rules of Golf.
The thinking here would be include this “time limit” in the changes, which are due to take effect in January 2019.
It would certainly go some way to eliminating the masked and unseen “rules viewer/official” sitting in front of a television, or watching it on a mobile device, ever ready to cry foul and alert Tour officials, who, for their part, always appear as keen as ever to entertain the “complainants”.
Commenting on the Thompson situation, Malaysian Golf Association Rules committee chairman, CC Boo, said it was an “unfortunate” incident but that it could be resolved with a mechanism put in place.
“This is not an isolated case. It has happened before and we all remember the Tiger Woods incident at the Masters in 2013. But I believe that if rules are made and implemented to counter this, it will become a thing of the past,” said Boo, who has officiated at the British Open and US Open, among others.
And now, as we prepare for the final round of the Masters today, we only hope that nothing of the sort takes place at Augusta, which would leave us to live out another storm like Thompson endured.