OK, that’s enough. The caretakers of golf, including the LPGA, PGA Tour and USGA, must draw the line once and for all on the influence of couch potatoes with nothing better to do than pause, replay and slo-mo their DVRs.
True golf fans went out and played nine or 18 today and then came home to enjoy the finish of what had been a riveting ANA Inspiration. The first major of the year had been playing out with a leaderboard full of the top names in women’s golf. Finally we were going to see if Lexi Thompson could hold a two-stroke lead today over Suzann Pettersen and take her second leap into Poppie’s Pond.
Thompson and Pettersen quickly turned the final round into a match play event, trading birdies and putting space between them and the field. After 12 holes Thompson led by two at 16-under-par.
And then Golf Channel’s Mike Tirico told us at home what the competitors did not yet know: Lexi was about to receive an unprecedented four-stroke penalty because on the 17th hole yesterday she did not properly replace her golf ball on a little 1-foot tap-in putt, a two-stroke penalty. And, not knowing this, she of course signed an incorrect scorecard, another two-stroke penalty.
Wait, let’s be clear — she was penalized not because she did all that, but because some yahoo watching at home found video evidence during today’s final round and emailed the LPGA, which then felt compelled to examine the video evidence and call the penalty. Kinda like the Cubs being dinged four runs in the sixth inning of Game 7 of the World Series for something some couch potato fan said they’d done in the eighth inning of Game 6.
THERE’S ONE HERO IN THIS STORY, AND THAT’S LEXI.
Thompson, 22, got the news from LPGA rules official Sue Witters on her way to the 13th tee. “Is this a joke?” she asked, her walk slowing. Witters said no it wasn’t, but, oh, what a joke to golfers everywhere.
Thompson then put on one of history’s greatest displays of grit, birdieing three of the last six holes to make it into a playoff. She lost the playoff to So Yeon Ryu, who said she didn’t feel right about how she won but nonetheless kissed the trophy and leapt into the pond. (The jury is still out on Ryu’s replays, but lucky for her she wasn’t on camera all that much until the mercifully short playoff.)
Here’s what’s disgraceful about the ruling. Not even Lexi was going to miss that little putt, and she did not purposely mis-mark. If she had it to do over again, she probably would have simply tapped the putt in. Officials did not notice anything awry, and that should have been that.
But listening to LPGA Manager of Rules and Competition Dan Maselli, you’d think the problem wasn’t that the yahoo called in a picayune rules violation, but that he didn’t call earlier!
“It’s one of the unfortunate things about professional golf and live television is people do see things and I wish they would speak up more quickly because then the additional two‑stroke penalty ‑‑ she wouldn’t have incurred that if she could have gotten this out during her round yesterday,” Maselli told Tirico and Judy Rankin.
NO DAN, THAT IS NOT THE UNFORTUNATE THING.
The unfortunate thing is that the professional golf powers that be have not put a stop to these absurd calls. There is nothing in the rules that condones penalizing players a day later for something a TV viewer just happened to notice and call in. So the pro tours must immediately do the following:
- Put their own officials on monitors to watch and replay everything happening in today’s round.
- Limit those officials to calling penalties within one hour of when a player has holed her final putt.
- Prohibit players from signing their scorecards until given the “all clear” by those replay officials.
Maybe then the TV-viewing couch potatoes will find real lives to live. Hey, maybe they’ll even try playing golf. Suddenly, courses will have more business than they can handle.
In the meantime, the LPGA can find solace in the fact that it has finally stolen the show from the boys. Masters week is upon us, and thanks to some couch potato yahoo, no one will be talking about Tiger Woods.