Lexi Thompson, bless your heart. That’s a big heart and an apparently kind heart. That’s also an obviously broken heart, and, my goodness, bless that broken heart.
Late Saturday, Thompson controlled a comfortable two-stroke lead in the third round of the ANA Inspiration, one of the LPGA’s major golf championships. Before tapping in a gimme putt on the 17th green, she marked her ball, straightened it a bit and tapped it in.
No harm done. Two-shot lead heading into the final day.
That lead stretched to three as Thompson walked off the 12th green to the 13th tee a day later, six holes away from a major championship. But she was stopped by a tournament official and assessed a four-shot penalty.
Turns out, some jamoke sitting at home eating Doritos and DVR-ing women’s golf tournaments had the urge to ruin Thompson’s weekend. The unfriendly viewer noticed that when Thompson briefly marked her ball on the 17th green on Saturday, she placed her ball a smidge off the original mark.
I use the word smidge because it was, at most, a half an inch.
The viewer emailed the LPGA and informed it of the infraction. The LPGA reviewed the tape, assessed the two-stroke penalty for an improper ball mark and added a bonus two-stroke penalty because Thompson had already signed the scorecard from Saturday that became incorrect after the ball-mark infraction.
The tearful Thompson, a 22-year-old on her way to a major title, dropped out of the lead with six holes to play.
I hate everything about this, except for the fact that Thompson somehow battled back from that blow to force a playoff with So Yeon Ryu, which Thompson unfortunately lost. The loss also cost her roughly $150,000.
But it’s not about the money.
This is about the absurdity of the penalties and the uppity-ness of golf. I’ve written before about golf needing to shed its rich, snobby personality, yet, here we are. Everything about Thompson’s two-day roller coaster was flawed.
Tournament officials didn’t notice Thompson’s error. Why should a couch potato be able to write in and overrule the officials paid to govern the golf course? What’s stopping these golfers from having their coaches or buddies sit at home and study the tapes to gain advantages over their competitors?
Could you imagine being able to shoot a text to the NFL for a holding penalty that was missed by the referees? Holding happens on every single play in the NFL.
We complain about replays in sports because they take away human error, something we claim is part of the game. This was replay being enforced by some random guy at home. That essentially outcasts the better players who have more shots shown on TV. Had Thompson’s shot not been shown — not all shots are shown on TV — nobody would have noticed.
Doesn’t the concept of a ball mark automatically factor in slight human error? If they didn’t expect the ball to be moved at all, they’d eliminate the ability to mark it.
Did she break a rule? Sure. But she had no idea until 13 holes and almost 24 hours later. The added two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect card made no sense. The card wasn’t incorrect when she signed it. She would have still had a lead and had an entire night to move on from the mistake.
Golf is a difficult game full of rules and regulations, both of the written and unwritten varieties. But the LPGA snatched Thompson’s title out from underneath her, an embarrassing moment for the sport.
The Masters begins this week, and most of the players on the PGA expressed their remorse for Thompson and embarrassment for the ruling. Many of those same guys will miss a ball mark by a smidge this weekend, or curse a bad shot or maybe even toss a club to the ground in frustration.
For those of you watching at home, move past it. Put your phones down. The PGA can take care of it.
And hopefully they do it a little more generously than the LPGA.
Mike Pruden is the sports editor at The Sheridan Press.