Lexi Thompson moves on after rules change cuts off armchair officials

Lexi Thompson ANA Inspiration - Final Round Kelly Klein/Getty Images

Lexi Thompson moves on after rules change cuts off armchair officials

LPGA Tour

Lexi Thompson moves on after rules change cuts off armchair officials

Redemption at last. 

Lexi Thompson can’t get the trophy, the Hall of Fame points, the LPGA Player of the Year or the No. 1 ranking for 2017, but she can rest in the knowledge that what happened to her at the ANA Inspiration won’t happen to anyone else.

Arm-chair referees are now a thing of the past. Same goes for giving out penalties days after the fact.

Common sense has prevailed.

Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler, informed her of the upcoming changes shortly after she finished play at the QBE Shootout in Naples, Fla., where she tied for fourth with partner Tony Finau. When asked how she reacted, Kreusler said that in typical Thompson fashion, there wasn’t much of one. She was mostly glad that the rules have changed so that history won’t repeat itself.

“Lexi analyzed what happened to her, processed it,” Kreusler said. “She lived it, and she genuinely moved on.”

The new changes that were announced by golf’s governing bodies on Monday go into effect on Jan. 1 and would eliminate the shocking four-stroke penalty Thompson received during the final round of the year’s first major. 

An unidentified viewer emailed officials during the final round of the ANA about a possible infraction regarding the way Thompson replaced her ball on a 1-foot putt during the third round. Thompson was informed of the four-stroke penalty – two for mis-marking her ball and two for signing an incorrect scorecard – while walking to the 13th tee late Sunday afternoon. Her two-stroke lead was gone in a heartbeat, and the golf world exploded.

“Is this a joke?” she asked.

The entire episode gave golf a black eye. And while there’s some level of justice to be found in the fact that the rules have been changed, it doesn’t erase her pain.

Thompson got robbed at the ANA, and while history will show that her four-stroke fiasco proved the impetus for change, she still lost. 

Purists will bemoan the fact that, without viewer call-ins, future penalties could potentially go unenforced. Innocent mistakes and purposeful rule-breaking alike, they’ll say, can now go on unchallenged without an army of armchair officials.

But if golf purports itself to be a game of honor, then why does it need the extra eyes? Those who want to take liberties with the rules will carry on regardless.

Missed calls, even in the days of instant replay, are a part of all professional sports leagues. Golf is not an exception. Removing video call-ins puts the onus of integrity back where it belongs – on the field.

Kreusler, like many, has believed from the beginning that there never was an infraction in Thompson’s case. Not one caddie, player, spectator or rules official standing around the 17th green voiced a concern on Saturday over the way Thompson marked her ball. Nor did the rules official who was watching the broadcast live.

He points to the NFL, which won’t overturn a ruling on the field of play unless video evidence is conclusive, as the logical standard.

“We were bombarded by MIT scientists and engineers who begged us not to let that penalty stand,” said Kreusler, pointing to the lack of varying camera angles on the 17th green.

Of course, the call-in (or email-in) situation caused only half the uproar.

In past years, Thompson would’ve been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, but the USGA softened the rule in 2016, allowing a tournament committee to assess a penalty instead of enforcing disqualification if the player didn’t know they were guilty of a rules violation when they signed the card.

But days-old penalties, it turns out, sour like milk. How can a player be later punished for signing an incorrect scorecard that, at the time, everyone thought was correct?

“That was the one that really I think outraged most people,” Rory McIlroy said at the Masters. Jack Nicklaus agreed that once the round is done and a scorecard is signed, late penalties should be not be assessed.

“The day is over,” he said.

The USGA heard the outcry and acted, though it’s incredible that it took this long to legislate the obvious. 

Thompson received an overwhelming amount of support in the months that followed the ANA. But it was particularly tough for Thompson’s inner-circle to watch her deal with the amount of vitriol she has received from internet trolls, or as Kreusler calls them, cyber-terrorists.

When the QBE wrapped up, Thompson, in an unprecedented move, gave her clubs to her father, Scott, and drove home to Delray Beach, Fla. in her souped-up Nissan GT-R, likely feeling lighter than she has in months. Thompson leaves 2017 a bona fide game-changer. 

“It’s in her rear-view mirror,” Kreusler said.

Time to put the what-ifs aside and focus on what’s next.

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