LPGA players on video rules changes: More needs to be done

Stacy Lewis-naked eye-golf-rules-change Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports

LPGA players on video rules changes: More needs to be done

LPGA Tour

LPGA players on video rules changes: More needs to be done

IRVING, Texas – The consensus among LPGA Tour players after Wednesday’s new rules announcement is there is no consensus. Players were all over the map.

The new Decision 34-3/10 is effective immediately. Players will avoid a penalty if the violation could not be noticed with the naked eye on video. Penalties will also not be assessed when officials believe players made a reasonable judgment in replacing balls on the putting surface or taking drops.

Some, like Stacy Lewis, felt the USGA/R&A missed the mark.

“It really just put more clouds up in the air,” said Lewis. “It didn’t really clarify anything. It created more judgements. I don’t think it changed Lexi’s (Thompson) ruling at all.”

Others felt it was a good step in the right direction and cleared Thompson.

“I think it’s good for the game,” said Morgan Pressel. “There’s been too many really big championships that have been decided by technology in a sense.”

Lexi Thompson ANA Inspiration - Final Round

Lexi Thompson was left in tears on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2017 ANA Inspiration after being hit with a day-old, four-stroke penalty. (Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images)

The one area where everyone agreed: More needs to be done.

The two issues many players were most eager to see addressed – video call-ins (particularly day-late ones) and the incorrect scorecard penalty – were left untouched for the moment.

Twenty-three days after Lexi Thompson’s four-stroke penalty turned the back nine of the ANA Inspiration on its head, leaving players and fans outraged, the governing bodies fast-tracked and tweaked a new decision that would limit the use of video evidence.

The two governing bodies also have established a working group of LPGA, PGA Tour, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America representatives to bring a “comprehensive review of broader video issues that arise in televised competitions, including viewer call-ins.”

Anna Nordqvist was hit with a penalty during a playoff at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open when high-definition, zoomed-in footage showed that she brushed the sand with her club on the backswing in a fairway bunker. If the committee decides that such an infraction could not have been seen with the naked eye, and the player was unaware of the infraction, then no penalty would be applied.

Nordqvist, who lost the championship to Brittany Lang, released a statement on Twitter regarding the rule change: “As I said following the round, I made a mistake, and I take full responsibility for it. I am happy that going forward this will no longer be an issue.”

Anna-Nordqvist-US Open-naked-eye-golf-rule

Anna Nordqvist was hit with a penalty in the final round of the 2016 women’s U.S. Open that was called in by a TV viewer.(Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

As for Thompson, it’s unclear if the new decision would’ve ultimately changed the outcome of ANA. Thompson was informed of the penalty mid-round rather than questioned about her actions. She did not ask to see a video replay.

Thompson, after playing 18 holes in Texas on Tuesday, flew to New Orleans to take part in an exhibition at TPC Louisiana, site of the Zurich Classic, and was not made available for comment.

The committee will be considering the following to establish reasonable judgement: 1) the actions of the player and the context in which they were taken; 2) the player’s explanation 3) information from other who were there; 4) how far off they were in picking the location.

Thomas Pagel, senior director of rules and amateur status for the USGA, said that it would’ve been up the committee to make the inquiries of Thompson and assess all the circumstances in applying the reasonable judgment standard.

“Under this standard, a committee could conclude that there would be no penalty if it found that she was acting reasonably in trying to replace the ball accurately and just made a small mistake,” Pagel wrote in an email.

When asked if the new standards would’ve changed the LPGA committee’s decision regarding Thompson, Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA’s chief communications and tour operations officer, said officials hadn’t yet met as a team to discuss the matter.

Many players felt the new decision puts even more pressure on rules officials.

“Makes it worse, actually,” said Catriona Matthew, “makes it worse on the officials.”

Stacy Lewis-naked eye-rule-change-lpga

Stacy Lewis says Wednesday’s rules change “it didn’t really clarify anything.”

Matthew felt what was a “black and white” situation with Thompson clearly moving the ball has now turned grey.

“Now it’s a question of how much does she need to move it for it to be a penalty,” said Matthew.

Both Lewis and Matthew would like to see the governing bodies keep viewers from calling in days after the fact to report a violation. They’d like to see each round be treated like Sunday – when the round is over, it’s cased closed.

Brittany Lincicome agreed.

“Lexi deserved two shots, no problem,” said Lincicome. “Totally didn’t mean to do it, but did it wrong. But the next day getting four shots? I think that’s still an iffy one. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you’re in Japan and you ran out of time to call in … whatever time that golf day is done, I think it’s done.”

Pagel said in a Golf Channel interview that “closing” each round has been a talking point the past few weeks and will be discussed by the working group that has been established to review the broader video issues that arise in televised competition, including viewer call-ins.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan praised the collaborative effort that is taking place in regard to the rules changes. Like many players on his tour, Whan has a difficult time coming to terms with video call-ins.

“I find it’s difficult to defend,” he said, “even though I understand now more than ever the pros and cons, I’ve just found it to be difficult to defend in my own head.”

Mo-Martin-naked eye-rules-change-2017-reaction

Mo Martin believes the new rule changes may cause new problems for officials. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Mo Martin praised the USGA for fast-tracking a decision, but believes they missed the mark. Video call-ins should’ve been the priority, she said. As for what was announced, Martin feels the changes open up rules officials to additional scrutiny.

“You’re making the rules then not black and white,” she said. “I think this going to put the rules officials in a very tough spot. Are they going to try to take in consideration the character of the player? Do they think they were trying to cheat?”

Another talking point on the range: player integrity.

Rules officials will have to address players mid-round about video infractions that cannot be seen by the naked eye to establish if the player had any awareness of the incident. Nordqvist, for example, would’ve still been asked on the 18th hole.

Of course, players will say they were unaware. (Otherwise, we hope they would’ve called it on themselves.) The new decision allows officials to determine that a player did not breach the rules despite video evidence to the contrary.

But will players still feel a twinge of guilt knowing, for example, sand moved in a bunker on their backswing and there’s video to prove it? They’re now covered by the rules, but there’s still high-def video out there on a loop for fans to watch over and over.

“That’s a terrible position to put someone in,” said Lewis.

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