This was precisely what golf didn’t need; the recent optimism of how golf’s rules were going to be more about common sense and less of them was given its biggest possible setback as Lexi Thompson was handed a four-shot penalty for replacing her ball incorrectly at the ANA Inspiration.
Here there were shades of Dustin Johnson perhaps at last year’s US Open? But this was even more tangled and messy and four times as hard to recover from. The offence, and Thompson did replace it incorrectly, by half an inch maybe but she was at fault, took place the previous day.
Thompson was then told about it with six holes to play, going from two shots ahead to two behind in the time that it took to walk from the 12th green to the next tee. And the reason why this had suddenly come to light 24 hours later was because it all began with a viewer at home emailing in to say that Thompson might be at fault. After a video review she was penalised two shots for an incorrect ball placement and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.
LPGA Statement Regarding Lexi Thompson Penalty
On Sunday afternoon, the LPGA received an email from a television viewer, saying that Lexi Thompson did not properly replace her ball prior to putting out on the 17th hole during Saturday’s third round of the ANA Inspiration. The claim was quickly investigated by LPGA Rules officials.
After a full review, it was determined that Thompson breached Rule 20-7c (Playing From Wrong Place), and received a two-stroke penalty under Rule 16-1b. She incurred an additional two-stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d for returning an incorrect scorecard in round three. She was immediately notified of the breach by LPGA Rules Committee in between holes 12 and 13 of the final round.
The 2014 champion thought the rules official Sue Witters was actually joking, she wasn’t and major golf had another shambles on its hands. Only last year at the US Open Anna Nordqvist was alerted that she had grazed a few grains of sand in a fairway bunker one hole after it had taken place, and with it a two-shot penalty, and Brittany Lang was able to change her strategy and win her first major.
Thompson somehow gathered herself on the very next hole to knock in a 30-footer and got back into a five-way tie for the lead with two more and a bogey after being told her news. She actually had an eagle putt to win it but came up just shy.
In the play-off So Yeon Ryu birdied the 18th just as she had done in regulation play and it was the Korean who had her second major. It will almost be forgotten that Ryu actually won this tournament, for the record she put together a bogey-free 68 on Sunday while Suzann Pettersen missed a short putt to get into the play-off. The Norwegian, playing with Thompson, played those last six holes in one over.
“I just cannot believe the situation,” Ryu said. “I didn’t even check the leaderboard. I didn’t expect it. I thought I’m well behind, so all I wanted to do was play my game. It definitely feels a bit weird. It was kind of a weird atmosphere, even after I won the tournament. But I think the most important thing is no matter what happened during the round, we ended up going to a play-off. Then I was able to handle the tough situation well.”
Witters, who had to deliver the grim news, added: “I can’t go to bed tonight knowing I let a rule slide. It’s a hard thing to do, and it made me sick, to be honest with you.”
The LPGA will get plenty of stick for all this but they did nothing wrong, it is the Rules of Golf that allow for no discretion or common sense which is the big message that the game wants to put forward in the coming years. It can’t come quickly enough.
And the final word goes to Thompson, who stayed to sign autographs and was the perfect professional in handling the whole situation.
“I learned a lot about myself and how much fight I do have in me,” said Thompson. “And I don’t know, every day is a learning process, and I wasn’t expecting what happened but it is what it is. It happens and I’ll learn from it and hopefully I’ll do better.”