A controversial rules-related incident soured the first women's major of the year but the lingering question is what now for Lexi Thompson?
What now for Lexi Thompson?
Was it intentional? This is the question at the heart of the Lexi Thompson rules incident. The answer determines whether you think she was treated harshly or not harshly enough.
The slow motion pictures do not look good. She stands overt the ball, preparing to putt out and then bends down to mark her ball. Why? Then pictures clearly show that she moves the ball to the side of where it originally sat. As far as we can see, there are two explanations as to what happened a) she wanted to take a little extra time and align her ball with the hole before tapping in and was a little clumsy with the way she sat the ball back down or b) she spotted a spike mark or imperfection on the green and moved the ball to the side to avoid it.
For her part, she has stated that it was ‘100% not intentional at all.’ This is important because she is the only person who truly knows what happened.
A statement released by the LPGA tour said, “After a full review, it was determined that Thompson breached Rule 20-7c (Playing From Wrong Place), and received a two-stroke penalty under Rule 16-1b. She incurred an additional two-stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d for returning an incorrect scorecard in round three. She was immediately notified of the breach by LPGA Rules Committee in between holes 12 and 13 of the final round.” What this statement doesn’t say is whether the LPGA Tour officials felt Thompson’s actions were intentional.
If you think her actions were not intentional, the two-shot penalty for signing for an incorrect score seems incredibly harsh. If you think they were intentional then disqualification would have surely been a more fitting penalty. Either way, it seems as if this episode is far from over and begs the question what now for Lexi Thompson?
It is worth remembering at this point what happened to Simon Dyson back in 2013. He was spotted using his ball to tap down a spike mark during the BMW Masters in Shanghai. In that case, the Tour reviewed the evidence and decided Dyson’s actions were “committed by him in the knowledge of the rule forbidding such an act.” They went on to say the incident was “a momentary aberration on his part, not a premeditated act of cheating.” Dyson was fined $49,000 and received a suspended two-month ban.
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Likewise the events of Sunday afternoon also brought back to memory a similar incident at the 1997 Lancome Trophy in Paris. A television viewer in Sweden spotted Mark O’Meara mark and then replace his ball closer to the hole by about half an inch while putting out on the 15th hole of the final round. However, the incident only came to light seven months after it took place and O’Meara’s victory in the event stood. The reaction to this was very different to that which greeted Lexi Thompson. Jarmo Sandelin, who finished second, was particularly vocal calling for O’Meara to hand the trophy over to him. Chief Referee to the European Tour John Paramor said, “I believe the ball was incorrectly replaced. If the incident had been brought to our attention at the time and before he had signed his card at the end of the round, we would have called Mark in to have a look at the tape and would have said to him `I am sure you agree the ball has been replaced closer to the hole, which is a two-stroke penalty'. If it had come to our attention after he had signed his card, but before the tournament result had been posted on the noticeboard, the penalty would have been disqualification.”
What is for sure is that, as the US Masters starts in Augusta, golf’s ruling bodies will again take a look at the way in which television viewers can spark these rules-related controversies. That the infringement was only picked up by a viewer who’d seen a slow motion close-up has received much criticism. Should the general public be able to intervene in golf tournaments, emailing in and changing the destiny of the trophy and the players involved?
Related: Proposed changes to the Rules Of Golf for 2019
The next set of changes to the Rules of Golf are due in 2019. It would not be surprising to see yet another amendment included.
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In July 2023, Neil became just the 9th editor in Golf Monthly's 112-year history. Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he has also presented many Golf Monthly videos looking at all areas of the game from Tour player interviews to the rules of golf.
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