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Lexi Thompson was penalized four strokes in the 2017 ANA Inspiration tournament, thanks
to a viewer at home who alerted the LPGA. PHOTO BY BUGNUT23/Shutterstock.com

On Golf and Other Things Out of Doors

Rules or fools?

By Jim Rice

Once in a while something so stupid comes along I just cannot wait for the next deadline to speak out so I beg the editors for online space in the e-blast. “Stupid” happened this weekend on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour; again, right? In last year’s Women’s U.S. Open, Ana Nordqvist was penalized when the super slow-motion camera caught her backswing in a bunker; one grain of sand was moved and she was penalized two strokes in the middle of the playoff—ONE grain of sand. She, of course, lost the playoff.

Dustin Johnson in the middle of his finishing round of the 2016 PGA Championship was penalized for his ball moving on the green—not caused by his actions. The rules official on site, the opposing player nor Dustin saw the ball move on the green, but here comes a viewer who claims it moved causing a super slow-motion review of the incident that took place way back on the fifth hole. Dustin, during his round, was told he was OK, the ball didn’t move, then on the 12th tee he was told there would be a one stroke penalty as the ball had moved backward (away from the hole) by a nanometer. Wow. Dustin, to his credit, used that controversy to focus on the final holes and managed a solid win.

And now? They’ve done it again. Lexi Thompson, coming down the stretch of yet another LPGA major, is called for incorrectly marking her ball on the 17th hole the previous day. Yes, this was almost exactly 24 hours later when a home viewer with a super slow-motion video recorder noticed that she had marked her ball incorrectly and emailed the LPGA officials. What!? The incident occurred when she was marking her ball on the 17th green for a one foot putt. The coin was placed a little to the right side of the ball. When Lexi remarked, she placed the ball more directly in front of the coin. The total movement of the ball was less than an inch on a one foot putt and, even at that, it was no closer to the hole, just lateral a bit. The four stoke penalty, two for the incorrect mark and two more for signing an incorrect card, was more than Lexi could overcome. She lost the major in a playoff.

There is no other sport that allows spectators to officiate the game. And certainly no one can phone in the day after the championship game is played—won or lost—and claim to have spotted a rules violation during the replay. Can you even imagine a situation where that would happen after a game in the NCAA Basketball finals? Or the Super Bowl or World Series or Stanley Cup playoffs?

Rules are created in any game for one purpose and one purpose only, to level the playing field so that no player or team may take advantage of another by creating an unfair advantage. Golf, by allowing the situations they (PGA, LPGA, USGA) allow, make the sport a laughingstock. The above situations created no advantage to any player because we are talking about ones; one inch on a one foot putt (not closer to the hole), one nanometer of movement by a ball on the green (not closer to the hole), one grain of sand in the take away of a bunker shot. It is disheartening, discouraging and unfair and defeats the very purpose of rules—to be fair. None of these situations created any unfair advantage to the player involved and should have been summarily dismissed by onsite officials.

The USGA and R&A have made proposals to change many of the rules of golf to be more reasonable and with an eye toward fairness not fastidiousness.

So, the officiating bodies of golf need to choose: rules or fools? Which will it be?

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