Sunday 19 November 2017

Comment - It's time for golf to gag eagle-eyed TV viewers and second guessers

Lexi Thompson (L) walks off the 18th green, as So Yeon Ryu celebrates with her caddie after Ryu defeated Thompson in a playoff during the final round of the ANA Inspiration at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Lexi Thompson (L) walks off the 18th green, as So Yeon Ryu celebrates with her caddie after Ryu defeated Thompson in a playoff during the final round of the ANA Inspiration at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

The sight of heartbroken Lexi Thompson in tears will hopefully prompt action from golf's hierarchy.

Not for the first time, but in arguably the most controversial incident, the American was given a four-shot penalty after a TV viewer spotted a rules violation 24 hours after it occurred.

Thompson was leading by three shots on 17 under, having just played the 12th hole, when she was informed by tournament officials that she was being punished for incorrectly replacing a marked ball on the 17th green on Saturday, while also incorrectly signing her scorecard.

It emerged that a television viewer spotted her third-round offence and informed LPGA officials, who reviewed the footage and sanctioned the American mid-round. Thompson appeared to put the marker at the side of her ball, which was then replaced in front of the marker.

By the letter of the law, it was a rules violation and they acted correctly, but how can a professional sport be dictated by someone sitting on a couch, potentially on the other side of the planet.

Someone who reviewed something on their TV over-and-over and decided that a ball was misplaced by a centimetre has just decided a major. That is not okay in my book.

Soccer fans can't declare a goal offside from a high stool, rugby supporters are not allowed to blow the whistle on knock-ons. Why? Because they have officials to make those rulings and gold does too.

These intrepid at-home officials rarely pick up someone making a violation when they are on the cusp of missing the cut or out of contention. It's leaders or players who are contending who come under the microscope.

What if this TV umpire has a substantial bet on another player and is heavily scrutinising every movement of his opponents for the slightest hint of an error.

Let's look at previous incidents when golfers were ratted out by viewers.

The margins are so small that golfers penalised had no idea they had done anything wrong.

During a European Tour event in Abu Dhabi in 2011, while marking his ball, Padraig Harrington inadvertently knocks it and it rolls all but a dimple.

He thought it oscillated and didn't move and played on but slow motion video showed it moved a dimple or two and they disqualified him for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Harrington was in second place at the time.

Tiger Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty at the BMW Championship in 2013 after a videographer has copped his ball moving slightly after he moved a twig out of the way. If it was any other player, would he have bothered to call?

The Thompson, Woods and Harrington incidents probably amounted to a cumulative distance covered of about 1.5 centimetres.

If they noticed it, they should have called a penalty on themselves. If they didn't, the rules official should have been there to do so. Armchair umpires is not what the game needs.

During the final round of last year’s US Open, current world number one Dustin Johnson was told he might be subject to a penalty at the end because of his ball moving on the green, meaning that nobody on the course, including Johnson, knew exactly where they stood on the leaderboard.

He was given a two-shot penalty but it didn't affect the result.

What happened to Lexi Thompson did. It shouldn't happen again.

Online Editors

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