Lexi Thompson returns to competition in Texas on Thursday, for the first time since a TV viewer tipped off the LPGA to her sketchy ball replacement during the ANA Inspiration three weeks ago, knowing that golf’s governing bodies have limited such off-course interference with professional tournaments.
On Tuesday, the USGA and R&A handed down a decision designed to limit the use of video replay and hinder armchair whistleblowers’ ability to referee golf tournaments from afar. Players in this week’s LPGA’s Volunteers of America Texas Shootout, the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, and the European Tour’s Volvo China Open will play under the new decision, which will take effect immediately.
“New Decision 34-3/10 implements two standards for Rules committees to limit the use of video: 1) when video reveals evidence that could not reasonably be seen with the ‘naked eye,’ and 2) when players use their ‘reasonable judgment’ to determine a specific location when applying the Rules,” according to a statement from the USGA.
“The use of video technology can make it possible to identify things that could not be seen with the naked eye,” the statement continued, noting the example of “a player who unknowingly touches a few grains of sand in taking a backswing with a club in a bunker when making a stroke.”
Call that the “Anna Nordqvist Decision,” if you will, since it obviously relates to the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open when Nordqvist’s backswing displaced a grain of sand in a bunker. A TV camera recorded the violation, which Nordqvist did not notice. The penalty likely cost Nordqvist the title as she lost to Brittany Lang in a playoff.
The second standard results from Thompson’s situation in that it recognizes that players cannot be held to the same “degree of precision” as video technology when determining “a spot, point, position, line, area, distance or other location in applying the Rules.” The rules chiefs noted the example of “determining the nearest point of relief or replacing a lifted ball.
“So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence,” the new rule states.
Unfortunately, the USGA and R&A did not reject fully the ability of TV snitches to contact tour officials with their interpretations of what happens on the course, saying only that further study is needed on that very sore subject.
“Video-related topics that require a deeper evaluation by the working group include the use of information from sources other than participants such as phone calls, email or social media, and the application of penalties after a score card has been returned,” said the statement.
“This important first step provides officials with tools that can have a direct and positive impact on the game,” USGA executive director and chief executive Mike Davis said in the statement. “We recognize there is more work to be done. Advancements in video technology are enhancing the viewing experience for fans, but can also significantly affect the competition. We need to balance those advances with what is fair for all players when applying the Rules.”
The extremely fast response to recent events came about after the USGA and R&A met with LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan and officials of the PGA of America, PGA Tour, and European Tour at Augusta National during the Masters to talk about about the contentious penalty that cost Thompson four strokes, and likely the ANA title.
Video confirmed, and no one disputes, that Thompson barely, but clearly, replaced her ball incorrectly on the 17th green during the third round of the major. The controversy arose after LPGA officials opened the television viewer’s email on Sunday and alerted Thompson of the violation as she left the 12th green in the final round of the tourney.
Thompson was two shots up at the time but four penalty strokes — two for miss-marking her ball and another two for signing an incorrect scorecard — put her two strokes back and incredulous.
She went on to lose the contest to So Yeon Ryu in a playoff but not before the way in which justice was meted out had luminaries like Tiger Woods crying foul over social media.
Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes. Let's go @Lexi, win this thing anyway.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 3, 2017
Whan termed the incident “embarrassing,” while players and fans alike argued that no other sport enables couch potatoes to act as remote refs. Phil Mickelson went so far as to say that Thompson deserved the ANA title, and fanned the flames of the incendiary debate by suggesting that PGA Tour players routinely mark their golf balls incorrectly.
Meanwhile, though the USGA and R&A are in the midst of a significant rules overhaul slated to take effect in 2019, they apparently determined that a “Lexi Thompson Rule” (though it is a decision and not really a rule) was of immediate import.
The player herself, who is bound to garner much attention in her first start since the rules mishap, has had a rough time since that emotional Sunday in Rancho Mirage.
“I’m told by a source very close to her that she had not done well with it at all, was devastated by it,” Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte reported. “So this will be an interesting week for her, as it relates to whether she can put that behind her, whether it motivates her.”
Perhaps the new rule will ease Thompson’s return to competition. For sure she has tried recently to overcome the brouhaha that sullied the ANA finale and that will likely be a focus of the seven-time LPGA winner’s Wednesday press conference.