It's the rule, but it's still unfair

By Steve Sell
April 03, 2017

During Sunday’s LPGA Ana Inspiration Golf Tournament — one of the five majors for the women — superstar Lexi Thompson was rolling right along with a 2-stroke lead and playing at the top of her game.

A dive into Poppy’s Pond — a tradition for the winner — seemed imminent.

But after completing her 12th hole, Thompson was informed by a rules official that she was being assessed a four-stroke penalty for an infraction that occurred on Saturday. Apparently tour officials were informed by a viewer that Thompson had not marked her ball correctly on the 18th hole Saturday, which is a violation of the rules. 

Thompson, of course, was gobsmacked. She was greatly shaken, trying mightily to hold back the tears. She went from being in total control of the tournament to finding herself a stroke behind.

Somehow, some way, she was able to compose herself to birdie the very next hole. She made another birdie two holes later, but an eventual bogey dropped her back into a tie. She wound up tying for the championship and then lost in a playoff.

There is no sport more honorable and that follows such a strict code of ethics than golf. You hear of golfers all the time calling penalties on themselves, even if their competitors don’t see it. For we serious golfers — I put myself in that category — it’s all about respecting the game.

I have my own self-imposed penalty story. One year in the McPherson City Tournament, I was actually in the hunt for the championship on the final day. On No. 4 at Turkey Creek, I had staked a wedge within 2 feet of the cup for an almost a gimme birdie.

My fellow competitors had already putted out and my putt was a mere formality. In fact, a couple of the guys were already walking back to their carts.

When I hit my short putt, apparently I had some sand on my putter. The ball did not come off the blade as it should have and I hit the ball again as it was rolling, which is a penalty.

My partner was holding the pin and didn’t notice it, but I did right away. I immediately said I had double-hit the ball resulting in a penalty.

I informed the other two guys in the group on the next tee so they knew of the situation and were shocked that it happened.

So it does occur to we amateurs just as it does the pros. 

But in Sunday’s instance, I have to disagree with the way things were handled. If the viewer who emailed in had pointed it out after the round Saturday and the penalty had been assessed before Sunday’s round started, I’d been fine with that. She did commit a violation, though she didn’t realize it. 

But for the penalty to be assessed with six holes left in the round is unfair in my eyes. Thompson had the tournament basically wrapped up. That she was able to birdie her next hole was astounding. I really wish she would have gone on to win, but it just didn’t happen.

I’m with Tiger Woods, who tweeted out that TV viewers should not determine the outcome of a tournament. It’s up to the players in the group to determine if a rule has been broken. I’m sure if somebody in Thompson’s group would have called her out on it, she would have accepted her fate and taken a two-stroke penalty. Because nothing happened and she signed for a 67, two more strokes were assessed for signing an incorrect score card.

When it comes to golf, of course the rules should be followed. But sometimes common sense has to prevail and to me this made no sense to penalize her since she was in the middle of her final round. It’s the same thing as a missed traveling call in basketball, it was over and done with and on to the next play.

Thompson, already one of the most popular female golfers on tour, gained an infinite number of fans on Sunday for her handling of the situation. I’m proud to say I’m one of those.