One of the most contentious rulings in recent memory, the majority of the fallout from Lexi Thompson’s four-stroke penalty suggested the rules of the game or officials had somehow got it wrong.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
While a legitimate debate can be had about what penalty should be imposed for the two breaches that Thompson indisputably committed, to suggest what unfolded was anything but a win for the rules is patently absurd.
Keeping in mind that, had the same scenario played out two years earlier, Thompson would have been disqualified and marched from the course after 12 holes, the mere fact she still had a chance to win standing on the 72nd tee can only be seen as a victory for common sense.
To recap the circumstances quickly: On Saturday of the tournament, Thompson, leading at the time, rolled her birdie putt at the 17th hole within virtual gimme range.
Having addressed the ball, she then elected to bend down, place a coin behind it, align a marking on the ball with her intended line of putt, and tap-in.
To the naked eye, nothing seemed untoward and certainly nobody on site, playing partners and caddies included, noticed anything.
On Sunday, as Thompson and Suzann Pettersen played the seventh hole, the LPGA received an email from a TV viewer claiming a breach had occurred the previous day.
Officials reviewed the video and, as everyone who has since watched it would agree, there was no question Thompson had incorrectly replaced her ball. A penalty needed to be dished out.
But there was now a second problem. Given Thompson had clearly broken a rule, and not included the penalty in her score, she had, by default, gone on to sign a scorecard that was incorrect. A second breach and another penalty required.
The LPGA, rightly, followed the only course of action available to them. At their first opportunity, following Thompson’s playing of the 12th hole, they informed her of the two breaches and the resulting four-stroke penalty.
At this point, it is important to remember that had this all unfolded in 2015, the rule was unequivocal: Thompson would have been disqualified from the tournament.
Instead, she not only remained in the tournament but still had a chance to win, exactly the scenario rule-makers had in mind when they changed this exact rule in 2016.
Following several high profile instances where high definition television had identified infractions which could reasonably be missed by the naked eye, the rule was changed to allow for a penalty less than disqualification.
If, in circumstances where the player could not reasonably have known they committed a breach, that player went on to sign an incorrect scorecard, the new rule says the original penalty should be added to their score (in Thompson’s case two strokes for playing from a wrong place) and a further two strokes for signing the incorrect card.
Exactly what happened in California.
The outcry that suggested Thompson’s punishment didn’t fit her crime (a line a disappointing and surprising number of media types who should know better have run) is, at best, misguided, and, at worst, panders to a notion that if she didn’t do it on purpose or gain any advantage there should be no penalty.
Nobody ever means to hit a ball in a water hazard or over a boundary fence, either, but we all accept there are consequences for doing so.
While there was much outrage directed at the rules and officials, there was also plenty of ill feeling directed at the TV viewer who had alerted officials to the original breach.
Heavyweights including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson went public with their belief that, as Woods put it on Twitter, “Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes.”
Perhaps an understandable reaction from those who step into the arena but consider for a moment what they are actually suggesting: That having seen a breach occur, one should say nothing?
It’s hard to imagine anybody who plays this game with any sort of integrity genuinely proposing that as a fair and right course of action.
There is no doubt what happened to Lexi Thompson was unfortunate. There is also no doubt that the situation was entirely of her own making.
It was Thompson who committed the rule breach. It is the viewer at home, and the LPGA officials who then had to try to correct the situation, who are the real victims.
And they didn’t commit any ‘crime’.
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