Lexi Thompson penalty: Tournament referee not TV viewers should have final say
Who knows what was going through Lexi Thompson's mind when she chose to mark and replace her ball on the 17th green last Saturday?
Whatever it was, it resulted in what should have been a routine moment going horribly wrong. It ultimately cost her a major and her second ANA Inspiration title.
It also led to another sorry rules mess that made golf look ridiculous. Add this one to the Dustin Johnson fiasco at the men's US Open last year and Anna Nordqvist's rules breach that ruined her chances at the women's equivalent championship a couple of weeks later.
But be in no doubt that in this latest controversy only one person made a mistake and that was Thompson. Unwittingly or otherwise, she did not put back her ball in the correct place.
She was less than an inch out but she got it wrong and might have given herself an advantage.
Throughout the due process that followed, the LPGA rules officials acted in accordance with the rules as set out for tournament play.
Under current rules, officials have no choice but to investigate a possible rules breach if they are so alerted by a television viewer. And if the tournament is still going on, this applies even if that information comes in on a later day.
So Thompson was given a two-stroke penalty for incorrectly replacing her ball and two more shots for signing for the wrong score. A total of four shots were added to the tournament leader's card.
She only found this out as she moved from the 12th green to the 13th tee a day after the offence was committed.
And this is where the game lets itself look ridiculous. This is where common sense goes out of the window and tournaments are ruined.
Foremost is the fact that golf is a self-policing sport. Golfers and their playing partners are supposed to ensure that the rules are followed and, in so doing, protect the rest of the field from cheats.
This is what occurs almost all of the time at every level of the sport.
At big events, referees are on hand. At many majors there is a rules official at every hole with every group.
Furthermore, there should be an official watching the television footage. So why on earth do we need to rely on someone sitting at home - watching on delay, in this case - to make sure the rules are followed?
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If Thompson's actions were not spotted by her playing partner, referees on the spot, or officials monitoring the TV feed then they have surely come through enough examination.
Yes, this may mean a mistake is made - but most sports are riddled with such errors. Why does golf have to be different?
We have all screamed at screens having witnessed what we consider sporting injustice, but we have no part in altering the course of action in other sports.
But golf allows for sofa-seated witnesses to influence outcomes and it does no-one any favours.
In this case Ryu So-yeon is celebrating her second major title but no one is talking about her performance. Instead the player who finished second is gaining all the attention and sympathy.
Ultimately it was Thompson's fault that she lost but no-one wants to see any sporting event decided in such a way.
Golf's rules are under review. There are many good ideas under discussion for implementation in 2019.
Here's another one they should adopt - make sure the referee's decision is final, because there should be no place for interference from anyone else.