10 Most Controversial Moments in LPGA History

We look back at some of the most unwanted headlines over the years from the women's biggest tour

Lexi Thompson
Lexi Thompson at the 2017 ANA
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It feels like the women's game has escaped some of the screaming headlines that the men's game has seen but there have still been some outrageous and unnecessary blunders by the authorities, players and rules makers. Here we highlight 10 of the best/worst, all of which have aged badly and need to be confined to golf's Room 101.

1. CIGANDA AND THE SLOW-PLAY PENALTY

Carlota Ciganda

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It's not very often that a slow-play penalty is handed out and even rarer when a player refuses to accept it. Carlota Ciganda's group received a warning for being out of position during the Evian Championship in 2023 and, when they failed to make up the time, they were then put on the clock. On their final hole the Spaniard went over the allotted time and was given a two-shot penalty.

Ciganda, who was on the cut line, appealed the penalty to LPGA officials but was denied and signed her scorecard. Given that she signed for an incorrect score she was then disqualified. 

“Rule 3.3b(3) states that if a returned score is lower than the actual score, the player is disqualified from the competition. The exception to this Rule does not apply because Ciganda was aware of the penalty strokes received and upheld before signing her scorecard and leaving the recording area,” a statement read.

The Solheim Cup star had previously been assessed a slow-play penalty in her final hole of her match with Sarah Schmelzel at the 2021 LPGA Match play which meant that she lost the hole and the match.

2. THE TOURNAMENT WITHOUT A LOCKER ROOM

Lake Nona

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The 2023 LPGA season hadn't even got underway when controversy sprung up at the Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona.

Players and female celebrities began the week without any lockers after a storm damaged the permanent lockers in the women’s locker room. There was a plan to get some temporary lockers in on the second level of the clubhouse but that didn't include bathrooms and the area was put to other uses.

After some players spoke up (and the story became public) 36 temporary lockers were brought in but the area was still not private/secure given it was also being used by sponsor VIPS and tournament staff.

The players tried to downplay the episode but it still made plenty of headlines.

“I just think it’s a silly thing to talk about when we’re here at the first week of the year for the Tournament of Champions. It’s a great event, different than anything we play in all year, and I just think we should be talking about the start of the season. The focus should be on the golf.”

Earlier in the week there had been a memo saying that players could only hit balls on the range one hour before their tee time.

“The guys would never agree to an hour of practice each day,” Matilda Castren said.

3. THE 'GIMME' THAT TURNED THE SOLHEIM CUP 

2017 Solheim Cup

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This remains the most talked-about and unnecessary fall-out in the the history of the Solheim Cup. The Saturday fourballs had carried over to the Sunday morning when American rookie Alison Lee picked up a putt of less than two feet, thinking that it had been conceded by Suzann Pettersen.

The Norwegian said that it hadn't and the hole was awarded to Europe. Tears flowed from both sides and Europe won the 18th and the match to claim a 10-6 lead but also the wrath of the Americans who won 8.5 of the 12 singles for a one-point overall win.

By the rules Lee could have retaken the putt but she wasn't given that option at the time.

Pettersen, who was adamant at the time, had a change of heart overnight and quickly regretted her actions. 

“I’ve never felt more gutted and truly sad about what went down. I am so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture in the heat of the battle and competition. I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself. I feel like I let my team down and I am sorry," she said on her Instagram.

“To the US team, you guys have a great leader in Juli, who I’ve always looked up to and respect so much. Knowing I need to make things right, I had a face-to-face chat with her before leaving Germany this morning to tell her in person how I really feel about all of this. I wanted her also to know that I am sorry."

Pettersen will again lead the Europeans this year as they look to keep a hold of the trophy.

4. 'CHEAT' BLALOCK CLEARS HER NAME 

Jane Blalock

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It doesn't take too long before Jane Blalock's name pops up when the word 'cheating' pops up in the women's game. The 27-time winner was accused of marking her ball incorrectly and tapping down spike marks in the 1972 season. She was fined $5,000 and put on probation.

There was a player petition which led to her suspension but the player would successfully fight against it. There was also another legal victory two years later when a court ruled that the Tour was in violation of antitrust regulations – the following year the case was settled in Blalock's favour. She was awarded $13,500 in damages and the LPGA. was ordered to pay $100,000 to her attorneys which still left the American around $40,000 in deficit in legal and travel expenses.  

In her book Blalock identified Louise Suggs as a primary force behind her suspension, something that went back to 1971 when she joined Pine Tree GC in Florida.

“About that time I started playing golf in shorts. After playing for a brief time at Pine Tree in shorts, I was called into the manager's office. He said some of the women had complained about my attire and the club had passed a rule prohibiting shorts on the course. He said I couldn't wear them any more so I resigned my membership.

"The story that appeared the papers made Pine Tree look very stuffy. Louise took offence and wouldn't speak to me. The next year Louise wasn't even playing the tour regularly any more but here she was involved in instigating my suspension. I believe it all went back to that Pine Tree incident."

5. 'I HAD NEVER EVEN HEARD OF THE BACKSTOPPING ISSUE' 

Amy Olson

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There's nothing like a spot of backstopping to get social media whirring. In 2019 Amy Olson was playing with Ariya Jutanugarn in Thailand when she chose not to have Jutanugarn's ball marked. 

Moments later her chip shot was halted by her playing partner's ball and all hell broke loose. On the video it doesn't look great given the players fist-bump one another but the rules staff insisted that there was no wrongdoing.

"There was no agreement by either player to leave Jutanugarn's ball in place to help Olson's next stroke. An LPGA Rules Official was approaching the 18th green at the time and agreed that no breach had occurred. Rule 15.3a clearly states that for a breach to occur, that two or more players must agree to leave a ball in place to help any player on her next stroke. 

"That was not the case between Olson and Jutanugarn. Olson quickly played strictly to maintain pace of play, with her ball accidentally striking Jutanugarn's ball on the green. Jutanugarn's ball was properly replaced."

Olson herself admitted that she had learnt her lesson.

"Ariya's ball was not in my intended line and to help move things along, I told her it was fine. I had never even heard of the backstopping issue as I don't really watch PGA golf that much and it hasn't been an issue on the LPGA. My intention was to help pace of play. Obviously with everything that has gone down I think we all (especially me) will be more conscious of it and I will have EVERYONE mark anything remotely close to the hole now."

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6. TV VIEWER DETERMINES MAJOR

Lexi Thomson

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This was relatively recent but it now feels like a short lifetime away in how it played out. At the 2017 ANA Inspiration Lexi Thompson was handed a four-shot penalty with six holes to play of the final round of the Major. 

To make matters worse the infringement had come on the 17th hole of her third round when a viewer had called in from watching on TV. There were two shots for incorrectly placing a marked ball and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.

With the four-shot deficit Thomson would slip two behind Minjee Lee but three birdies, including a 25-footer at the 13th, would get the American into a play-off with So Yeon Ryu. To complete Thomson's Sunday the Korean then birdied the first extra hole to make the jump into Poppy's Pond.

"The fans were amazing, they got me through the whole round. I just tried to gather myself to hit that drive (on the 13th). I learned a lot about myself and what I have in me. I'm proud of the way I played coming in."

7. 'PLUNGING NECKLINES ARE NOT ALLOWED'

Michelle Wie

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In the middle of the 2017 season the LPGA did themselves few favours when they introduced a new dress code that focused on plunging necklines, revealing skirts and even leggings.

In an email to the players it noted clothing that would no longer be prohibited and any offence would result in a $1,000 fine for the first misdemeanour and then double for any further transgressions.

Notable lowlights included..

- Plunging necklines are NOT allowed

- Leggings, unless under a skort or shorts, are NOT allowed

- Length of skirt, skort, and shorts MUST be long enough to not see your bottom area (even if covered by under shorts) at any time, standing or bent over

- Appropriate attire should be worn to pro-am parties. You should be dressing yourself to present a professional image. Unless otherwise told “no,” golf clothes are acceptable. Dressy jeans are allowed, but cut-offs or jeans with holes are NOT allowed.

- Joggers are NOT allowed

“The dress code requires players to present themselves in a professional manner to reflect a positive image for the game. While we typically evaluate our policies at the end of the year, based on input from our players, we recently made some minor adjustments to the policy to address some changing fashion trends,"explained the tour's Heather Daly-Donofrio.

These days things have thankfully moved on and, under the tour's FAQs, it simply states: "Yes, the LPGA does have a dress code. We allow sleeveless and collarless shirts to be worn during play. There is no specific length requirement on shorts or skirts. Denim, cut-offs, workout clothes are not allowed."

8. PUNG HAS US OPEN TAKEN AWAY FROM HER

Jackie Pung

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Everyone is familiar with Roberto De Vicenzo's scoring blunder at the 1968 Masters which kept him out of a play-off but Jackie Pung's mishap is certainly less well known. At the 1957 US Women's Open at Winged Foot Pung celebrated winning the Championship for a short time, beating Betsy Rawls by a shot, but her scorecard wasn't right.

Her playing partner, Betty Jameson, had given her the right score, a 72, but she had put her down for a five on the 4th hole when she had in fact taken a six. Previously this would have been a two-shot penalty but now it meant that she would be disqualified. Pung made the same error on Jameson's card so both players would be DQd.

Somehow the Hawaiian golfer managed to say a few words at the prize-giving – she is pictured here looking suitable disconsolate.

“Winning the Open is the greatest thing in golf,” she said. “I have come close before. This time I thought I’d won. But I didn’t. Golf is played by rules and I broke a rule. I’ve learned a lesson. And I have two broad shoulders.”

There was a happy ending of sorts as the fans, officials and members of Winged Foot had a collection and gave Pung over $3,000 – the winner's prize was only $1,800. 

9. FINE MARGINS UNDO NORDQVIST 

Anna Nordqvist

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Less than a month after Dustin Johnson's rules farce at the men's 2016 US Open we got this. At Cordevalle GC Anna Nordqvist was in a play-off with Brittany Lang when she was adjudged to have touched the sand with her 5-iron at the second of three play-off holes. The ruling was correct but was also one of those decisions that was so minute it also made the rule book slightly ridiculous. 

What then made it worse was that the Swede was only told about the two-shot penalty after she had hit her third to the par-5 18th, the third and final hole of the play-off. Lang was then informed of her two-shot advantage, took the safer option and ending up winning by three.   

“I wish the USGA would have told me a bit earlier,” said Nordqvist. "They approached me after I already hit my third shot into 18, then kind of ran up to Brittany to tell her that I got penalised. I don’t know if it would have changed the outcome but it certainly would have changed my aggressiveness into the 18th pin.”

10. 'LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE PLAYE...OH'

Terry Duffy

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The CME Group has pumped millions into the LPGA Tour and since 2011 they have sponsored the season-ending Tour Championship. So, when their CEO Terry Duffy asked for the lights to be switched on at a CME dinner in November 2022 to applaud the players, it wasn't a great look that not one of them had turned up. 

Worse still they had just announced a record pay day for that year's tournament with the winner alone receiving $2m.

“It’s an embarrassment to a company of my size and an embarrassment to me personally,” said Duffy. “I am exceptionally disappointed with the leadership of the LPGA. They better get their act together because they’re going to lose people like me over stuff like this.

“I’m concerned about the future of the tour because the leadership needs to work with their players to make sure that everybody has a clear understanding of how we grow the game together, along with sponsors and others. There’s no one person, no two people who can grow it alone. You need everybody. They say it takes a village and I think their village is getting a little fractured.

The LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan took full responsibility for the incident and you can be pretty certain that this type of oversight won't happen again.

“There hasn’t been any greater supporter of the LPGA than CME Group and Terry Duffy. There was clearly a disconnect and it’s my responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t happen. So on this particular issue, I’m taking full responsibility as a leader of the organisation to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The good news is that CME are still the title sponsor of the Tour Championship.

Mark Townsend
Contributing editor

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.