Lexi Thompson gave it her all, but the hard-luck loser of the ANA Inspiration could not overcome a four-stroke penalty she incurred on Saturday that she only learned about midway through Sunday’s finale.
When So Yeon Ryu’s birdie putt on No. 18 dropped, the first hole of a sudden-death playoff, it ended Thompson’s chance for a second victory on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course and marked one of the strangest finishes to a major championship.
Thompson was cruising toward her second ANA win in four years when her victory train hit a major speed bump in the form of a TV viewer who alerted officials to a penalty Thompson incurred a day earlier. Video confirmed that in the third round on Saturday, Thompson had marked her ball and then replaced it in an incorrect spot before tapping in a one-footer on the 17th green.
Thompson, as well as most of the golf world, was in complete disbelief that officials penalized her two strokes for the improper ball placement and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard. The good news in this debacle: had Lexi made the error prior to a Jan. 2016 rules change, she would have been disqualified for signing for the wrong score.
So Rule 6-6d actually kept her in the tournament, but that did nothing to mute the outrage expressed on social media and by Golf Channel broadcasters Mike Tirico and Judy Rankin, not by how the LPGA handled things, but that yet another armchair referee was allowed to interfere with play.
Our statement regarding Lexi Thompson penalty. pic.twitter.com/bQrlIFrebQ— LPGA (@LPGA) April 3, 2017
“It just doesn't feel like the right winner has been crowned here,” Tirico said afterward.
On Sunday, Thompson had a two-shot edge, at 16-under, and was walking off the 12th green when a tourney official told her she was suddenly two behind in the first major of the season.
Twitter went absolutely wild, with Tiger Woods leading the charge against couch potatoes having the power to determine the outcomes of golf tournaments.
Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes. Let's go @Lexi, win this thing anyway.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 3, 2017
Thompson was incredulous and understandably emotional.
“Is this a joke?” she asked, perhaps hoping that what she had heard was a late April Fools’ prank. “That’s just ridiculous.”
Unfortunately, it was not a gag but one of the idiocies that far too often plague televised golf and no other professional sport — a TV viewer dropping a dime on a player and actually being taken seriously.
Thompson played the next several shots through tears but made two clutch birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 to take the lead again briefly. But it was not to be — Ryu surged to a final-round 4-under 68, a 14-under for the week, and a share of first place with an incredibly resilient Thompson, who won a legion of fans during and after her emotional and hard-fought round.
“Lexi Thompson trying to deal with an almost unprecedented moment in major championship golf,” Tirico intoned while Thompson played on. “You find out you have four more strokes than you thought, with six holes left in a major championship, fall behind, birdie to tie, birdie to take the lead by one with three to go.”
As she made her way up the 18th fairway in regulation and then to the green after a hugely clutch approach shot to give her a chance for an eagle putt and the win, Thompson was greeted by chants of “Lexi! Lexi!”
But the putt came up just short and it was on to the playoff.
After it was over, both players showed nothing but class.
“It’s great to have the fan base that I do and they got me through the whole round,” an emotional Thompson said. “It’s unfortunate what happened. I did not mean that at all, I didn’t realize I did that.”
Ryu told Golf Channel her victory did not feel quite right.
“I just cannot believe the situation. It’s a very unfortunate situation,” she said. “It’s kind of a weird (feeling).”
Ryu was under no illusion as to the sentiments of the pro-Thompson crowd.
“To be honest, this is America, Lexi’s American,” she said, “so definitely a lot of the crowd was rooting for Lexi.”
For sure, the unfortunate incident marred what should have been a celebratory moment for Ryu, who took the traditional winner’s plunge into Poppie’s Pond while Thompson was left to rue what might have been.
“I wasn’t expecting what happened today, but it is what it is,” Thompson said before collapsing into the arms of her mother in the scoring trailer. “It happens, and I’ll learn from it and hopefully do better.”