News & Opinion

Thompson wins supporters amid calls for change

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Did she gain an advantage?

Many players at the Masters on Monday were discussing the four-shot penalty that Lexi Thompson incurred in Sunday’s final round of the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year (“4-stroke penalty stuns Thompson at ANA,” April 3, bit.ly/2nxsvFa).

In case you missed it, Thompson marked her ball on the 17th hole of Saturday’s third round at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., before facing a 2-footer for par. When she replaced the ball, it clearly was in a different position than where it had been before she marked it.

On Sunday, during Thompson’s front nine, a viewer emailed the LPGA, suggesting a potential rules infraction. An investigation ensued, leading to four strokes in penalties: two each for violations of Rule 20-7c (“Playing from Wrong Spot”) and Rule 6-6d (“Scoring in Stroke Play”). Thompson was notified after she played the 12th hole.

Thompson went from a two-shot lead to a two-shot deficit and eventually lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

“The thing with our game is, since I've played it as a junior and into professional, you play and you trust what the other guy's doing,” four-time major champion Ernie Els said. “End of story. You don't even really worry about the guy doing anything. So that's never really come in my mind to see what he's doing.”

A rules infraction must come with a price, said Els, who added that the issue that led to Thompson’s penalties must be addressed by the governing bodies.

In an informal poll, every player at Augusta agreed that call-ins regarding perceived rules violations should be banned.

“Once you sign your scorecard, that's kind of it,” Rickie Fowler said Monday during his news conference at Augusta National. “If something were to come up Monday after the tournament, the tournament's done. So where do things close off? If something happened Thursday in the tournament, something were to come up on Sunday, then you go back and enforce a penalty there – it just goes back to, there shouldn't be anyone outside of the officials being able to make this call.”

Billy Hurley III suggested that golf take a page from other sports’ policies and have a rules official monitor the telecasts.

“I think that you could see that change come out of it, that somebody's going to be in a cubicle somewhere looking at every single shot that's hit and that's going to be like an official person looking to see if there's anything that questionable maybe happened,” Hurley said. “I think that's something you could see happen. We have an extra rules official who is just a rules official, and they have them in the NFL. They have those guys, and NHL, too.”

Hurley said that when players discuss the issue, the key question is: Did the action create an advantage for the player?

In Thompson’s case, it didn’t seem so. But, it’s possible that the small change in ball position made a slight difference.

The fact that Thompson made a rules infraction never was in doubt. The fact that the infraction was caught by a TV viewer and disclosed the next day prompted calls for change.

According to Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s chief of operations, the Tour will continue to use any source available regarding potential rules infractions. Thomas Pagel, who is in charge of rules at the USGA, could not be reached for comment.

Unless the USGA decides to change the Rules of Golf, fans and other outside sources will be an integral part of the rules.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli