AUGUSTA, Ga. – Phil Mickelson says numerous PGA Tour players fail to mark their golf balls properly, but unlike the LPGA’s Lexi Thompson, they haven’t been nabbed with a major championship on the line.
“I know a number of guys on Tour that are loose with how they mark the ball and have not been called on it,” Mickelson said Tuesday during his news conference at Augusta National Golf Club, site of this week’s Masters. “I mean, they will move the ball 2, 3 inches in front of their mark, and this is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth, and I think that kind of stuff needs to stop. . . . The Tour should go to those players and say, ‘Look, we've noticed you've been a little lax in how precise you've been in marking the ball. We'd like you to be a little bit better at it,’ and see if that doesn't just kind of fix the thing.”
Thompson incurred a four-stroke penalty and finished runner-up in the ANA Inspiration on Sunday. An anonymous TV viewer emailed the LPGA on Sunday, a day after the infraction. Thompson was found to have violated rules 20-7c and 6-6d when she played from a wrong spot after marking her ball and then signed for what ultimately was ruled to be a lower score.
Fans reacted swiftly in support of Thompson (“Don’t let TV replays ruin golf,” April 4, bit.ly/2oXN12J), and Mickelson said similar incidents occur often on his Tour.
Mickelson, expressing reluctance to speak about the Thompson incident, conceded that anyone can make an imprecise mark on occasion. The LPGA erred, he said, and it should fix its mistake regarding Thompson, who lost to So Yeon Ryu in a playoff.
“I think it should be reversed,” Mickelson said. “I think that she should be given the trophy.”
Jack Nicklaus, the six-time Masters winner, said he never was lax with the rules, not even an imprecise mark.
“I was very careful how I marked the ball,” he said. “We govern ourselves. The integrity of the game is that you do things the right way. I don't think I ever in my career ever marked a ball incorrectly.”
Nicklaus recalled having seen three incidents of cheating on Tour, without revealing details.
“I looked at my playing partner, and he came to me and we talked about it and we said, ‘If it happens again, what do you think?’ So on three occasions, it happened again,” Nicklaus said. “Three occasions, we took it quietly to the tournament director and got out of it. Nothing was ever said publicly about it.”
Nicklaus believes in the players’ roles as gatekeepers of their sport.
“If there is a rules violation that's blatant, then I think it's not fair to the rest of the field not to bring it up,” he said. “But you bring it up quietly and try not to embarrass somebody and do it in a class manner.
“We had one in The Presidents Cup last time … and we said, ‘What do we do about it?’ And I don't know why I got involved in it. I wasn't in the tournament, but I was there. They just got the captains together and had a little conversation with the young man, and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. I think you can handle it properly, to his advantage.”
Modern players seem to be reluctant to put a competitor in the rules crosshairs or brand him as a cheater. Among themselves, though, they know who is questionable regarding the rules.
“I think there's been times where you've seen something that, yeah, you kind of question, was that right or was it not,” Henrik Stenson said. “And then, yeah, it's always that, should you step forward or should you not. A lot of times, I'm sure you would keep on monitoring; if you think something might not be right, has been happening, then you keep on monitoring. But if you then don't get any further kind of proof or evidence of that, then obviously, it's going to be a tricky situation to say something, because then you're not sure what you really saw in the first place.”
Thompson made a mistake, Nicklaus said, and it cost her a major championship.
“I don't think she did it on purpose,” Nicklaus said. “I don't think she did anything malicious about anything or trying to cheat. It just happened. She did it and did it wrong, and it was obvious that she marked it back probably an inch and a half away from where it was. . . . It just happened to be a mistake.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli