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Lexi shambles 'should never have been allowed to happen'

Lexi Thompson 1

Somewhere, somebody will go into work this morning and presumably take great delight in telling their colleagues how they cost Lexi Thompson a second major victory.

What a sad, sad individual.

It’s bad enough that there are people out there with sufficiently little else in their lives but an urge to call in penalties on live sport. What’s worse, though, is that golf is so willing to act upon their info.

Now, before we go any further, it’s important to acknowledge that Thompson did appear to replace her ball wrongly on the 17th hole during the final round of the ANA Inspiration. That’s a breach of the rule and, consequently, a two-stroke penalty.

Whether she did so intentionally is entirely irrelevant. In order to be robust, golf’s rules cannot – and do not – account for intent, reasonable doubt or anything else that cannot be quantified beyond doubt. Instead, the rules deal solely with facts, and it is a fact that Thompson wrongly replaced her ball. Two-shot penalty. Fine. No issue with that.

That, though, is not (at least should not) be the issue. The issue should be the way Thompson’s penalty was applied. It was bad enough that she was only informed of her rules breach some 20 hours after it occurred, worse yet that she got news of it deep into her final round. Most disturbing of all, however, is that, not for the first time, golf has allowed armchair fans to directly influence the outcome of an event.

Simply by virtue of being on TV, Thompson is immediately at a disadvantage over players who are not. There are more eyes on her than are on those further down the leaderboard, who don’t have multiple cameras trained on them from multiple angles. Who’s to say that they’ve not made the same error that Thompson did, perhaps several times, and got away with it?

That’s the real problem here. Players on television are subject to greater and closer scrutiny than those who are not, so how can you apply the rules fairly and evenly? Because remember: they’re meant to be robust.

Lexi Thompson 2

To me, there are two solutions: one, film and broadcast every single shot by every single player; or, two, disregard viewer correspondence. The former is of course impossible, and so, in the interests of fairness (and the absence of a better, more viable third option), it’s surely preferable to go with the latter. It’s not a perfect solution but at least it’s fairer. If rule breaches get missed, let that be on the heads of the officials who are employed to spot them.

Can you imagine the football authorities chalking off a goal at half-time in a top-of-the-table clash because a TV viewer spotted something that nobody else had seen? Please.

Another point: what if the viewer in question had waited until after play had concluded last night to call in the penalty and Thompson had gone on to win? Would we have to strip her of the title?

Messier still, what would we have done if she had ‘won’ by four shots, only to then retrospectively be deducted four shots (two for the rule breach and another two for signing for an ‘incorrect’ score)? Would we have had to call Thompson and So Yeon Ryu back today for a play-off? Is there a point after which tournament officials disregard rules violations as spotted by television viewers?

There’s so much that stinks about this whole affair and so little of it has to do with Thompson’s implied ‘intent’. To debate that is to both baselessly call into question the integrity of a player who insists the mistake was made innocently, and to miss the more concerning matter of armchair viewers’ influence carrying as much weight as it does. Like Tiger Woods tweeted: “Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes”. Spot on.

This morning, I feel sorry for Thompson. I feel sorry for the eventual winner Ryu. I feel sorry for the hard-working people – volunteers, mostly – who are trying to increase participation in the game only to have their efforts undermined by image-tainting nonsense like this. Is it any wonder so many people pass on golf when this sort of thing happens?

However, most of all, I feel sorry for the sad soul with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than to contact golf tournament officials simply to cry ‘foul’.

I hope it made climbing out from behind your rock worthwhile. 

Lexi's 'trial by TV' - your thoughts

What do you make of the incident involving Lexi Thompson? Is golf right to impose penalties based on information provided by TV viewers? Or should it disregard such correspondence? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section below.

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