Lexi Thompson is a 22 year old Amerikan golfer. She plays on the LPGA and is one of the better players on the lady's circuit. She is a bit of a prodigy given the fact that she became the youngest player ever to qualify for the women's US Open at the age of 12. She became a professional player at the tender age of 15 and she has accumulated 7 LPGA tour wins since then. Her 7 wins include one major, the ANA Inspiration tournament in 2014. It was this year's edition of the ANA Inspiration tournament that I would like to write about today.
Lexi was back in Rancho Mirage this past weekend, seeking another major victory in the tournament she had won once before. She established a commanding lead over the first three days and was coasting to an apparent victory on Sunday when disaster struck. Nobody knows who sent the email. Nobody knows the motivation of the anonymous person who ruined Lexi's chances at winning another major victory. All we know is that some armchair golf fan noticed something peculiar about what happened on the 17th hole on Saturday and then waited until Sunday to notify the LPGA about what he had seen.
Lexi had missed a birdie putt on the 17th green during Saturday's round, leaving her ball about one foot short of the hole. She walked up to the ball to tap it into the hole. Before tapping the ball into the hole she marked her ball and picked it up to align the mark on her ball with the direction she intended to putt. When she replaced her ball she did not put it down exactly where she had picked it up, as required by the rules. Media reports say that she put the ball down less than an inch from where she had picked it up. I have watched the video of the event and it appears to me to be closer to about 1/4 of an inch. Regardless, her placement of the ball was completely immaterial to the putt that followed, which she easily made. Nobody watching the putt noticed what she had done, including Lexi herself. None of her playing partners saw the miscue. None of the commentators saw what had happened. It should have been a total non-event but some bozo sitting at home and drinking beer noticed what had happened and went ballistic on her.
This is where things get interesting. Lexi finished Saturday's round and signed and delivered her scorecard to the officials. The anonymous person who witnessed her rule violation made no attempt to notify the officials, or Lexi, before her round ended and she signed her score card. Why did the self-appointed proctor of the rules wait a full day before notifying the LPGA of the violation? Nobody knows. Placing a ball on the green in a position other than the exact position it came from is a two stroke penalty. Lexi should have been notified that she had violated the rule immediately, rather than waiting over a day before being informed. Because she was not told immediately she ended up signing an incorrect scorecard, which brought about another two stroke penalty.
Lexi had finished the first 12 holes of her final round on Sunday and was obviously going to win the tournament. After walking off the green on hole number 12 a rules official approached her and informed her that some television viewer had notified them that she had broken a rule during Saturday's round and that she was going to be penalized a total of four strokes; two for the violation itself plus two more for the act of signing an incorrect scorecard. She was devastated, at first thinking it was some sort of cruel joke. Word rapidly spread through the gallery that Lexi had just had four strokes added to her score and she now found herself behind the eventual winner of the tournament, a lady named So Yeon Ryu. Despite the fact that she had just been emotionally clobbered by the bad news, she fought back, made a couple of birdies, and managed to finish the round tied with Ryu, thus forcing a playoff. She lost on the first hole of the playoff and her "sure thing" victory at ANA Inspiration disappeared.
Golf is a cruel sport and the rules of golf are so meticulous that they sometimes punish players mercilessly. I do not believe that to be a bad thing. In this day and age of "anything goes" in sports it is good to have a sport that still applies the rules to everyone in an equitable fashion. What bothers me about what happened to Lexi is not that she carelessly placed her ball in the wrong position on the 17th green on Saturday, thus properly incurring a two stroke penalty. What bothers me is that a golf fan was able to email the LPGA a full day later and determine the outcome of the tournament. I can only assume that the anonymous person who emailed the LPGA had it in for Lexi. By waiting until the next day he ensured she would be penalized four strokes instead of two. Had she been penalized just the two strokes on Saturday she would have still won the tournament but the four strokes were too much to overcome.
Can you imagine any other sport where a fan can email the front office of the sporting association and bring about a change in the outcome of the game? It is ridiculous that such a thing can happen. What happens on the golf course should not be subject to the interpretation of the fans. If fans can influence the outcome of the game I am going to start emailing MLB every time an umpire makes a call that goes against the Rockies. Lexi's mistake was not caught by any of the people authorized to enforce the rules so it should have gone unpunished. Furthermore, her mistake had absolutely no material impact upon the outcome of the tournament. As far as I am concerned, Lexi Thompson won the ANA Inspiration on Sunday afternoon but was then robbed by an anonymous fan with an ax to grind. That should never happen.