By The 2017 European Solheim Cup Captain, Annika
The first LPGA major is in the BOOKS, yes, BOOKS with capital letters. If you were watching live or caught up later, it was a very bizarre finish to the ANA Inspiration. Normally this tournament is about the leap into Poppie’s Pond and the champion wearing a robe. Of course, this tradition continued, but it was after two hours of confusion and subsequent clarification.
In a nutshell, Lexi Thompson, playing in the last group, was approached by two LPGA officials and informed they had just been alerted that she’d breached Rule 16-1b in the third round. A television viewer had called the LPGA and told them Lexi played from the wrong place after mis-marking her ball on the putting green. As a result, she had been assessed a two-stroke penalty for the infraction. In addition, she had incurred another two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect score card at the conclusion of her third round. Of course this was a complete surprise to all the competitors and, most especially, Lexi.
These situations are always tough for everybody involved. First of all, there was certainly no intent to break any rules on Lexi’s part (she wrote a nice note on social media to explain herself). Secondly, to get this news a day late and based upon a viewer calling in is a very frustrating scenario. Lexi handled herself with class and, after regrouping, fought very hard to get back in the tournament. She eventually lost in a one-hole playoff to Ryu So-Yeon.
They say there is no such thing as “bad publicity” – after all, this major will undoubtedly be remembered due to the rules infraction and the way our sport allows viewers to impact the outcome of televised events. Golf is unique in many respects, including that we are the only sport where competitors are their own officials and referees. We are also the only sport where viewers can report potential infractions and tournament officials have an obligation to listen.
The ANA Inspiration, other majors or any tour-sanctioned event for that matter have elected to follow the rules of golf as written by two of the game’s governing bodies, the USGA and R&A. There’s little doubt that Lexi did unintentionally breach a rule, but was the penalty justified? What can we do moving forward to avoid similar incidents and these embarrassing moments?
Thanks to more golf on television than ever before and the popularity of DVRs, this situation is becoming increasingly prevalent. Who can forget what happened this past summer at the U.S. Women’s Open where Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist was the victim of a similar situation?
As with all controversies, there will be many debates. The biggest issue to be resolved is how can we make the rules of golf more fair. The USGA began the process earlier this year when it announced a plan to make the rules easier to apply. I am sure what happened this weekend will be addressed.
On the bright side, I am so proud to see how our athletes handle adversity with such amazing class and dignity. I also commend the LPGA officials for handling the situation as well as they possibly could. It’s never fun to be the bearer of the bad news. For centuries, our sport has been a game of honor and character. I have little doubt it’s a major reason why millions of us like it so much.
At the end of the day, Ryo So-Yeon, who is one of the nicest girls on tour, got to wear the famous white robe, carry the trophy home and take the lead in the Rolex ANNNIKA Major award standings. But I also know Lexi won over even more fans than she had before, and learned something new about herself given the graciousness with which she handled the entire episode.
As the old saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”