EDITORIAL – USGA, CHANGE THIS RULE WHILE YOU’RE AT IT

Not too long ago, the USGA and R&A announced a number of proposed rules changes that will take effect in 2019.  One proposed rule they didn’t offer – but should – deals with viewers calling or emailing in to report rules infractions by the players.

The latest fiasco involves Lexi Thompson, the top American player on the LPGA Tour.  Thompson had a two-stroke lead during the last round of the recently completed ANA Inspiration, which is the LPGA’s first major of the year.  As she finished the 12th hole, Thompson was informed she incurred two two-stroke penalties – from the previous round!

On the 17th hole during the third round, Thompson did not replace her ball in the exact spot it was in after marking it in preparation to hit a two-foot putt.  A viewer on Sunday, during the final round, was watching a replay of the third round and did some slow-motion and magnified replay to catch this infraction, and emailed the LPGA during the final round.  Thompson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for not replacing her ball on the proper spot – thereby playing from a wrong spot – and an additional two-stroke penalty for signing a wrong scorecard.  Remarkably, Thompson somehow found the will to go 2-under the rest of the round to get into a playoff with So Yeon Ryu, with Ryu prevailing.

Thompson was careless in replacing her ball, and by the letter of the Rules she should have been docked two strokes. However, there is still a gnawing unfairness of it all.  I believe the time has come for the USGA and R&A to enact a local rule option that says a committee of televised events can refuse to consider viewer input on rules infractions.  Think of the luck involved in this situation: Had the broadcast director decided to cut away from Thompson and show something else, this whole incident would never have happened.  And if a typical four-round tournament has approximately 15-16 hours of air time, this means that during a televised tournament, approximately 1,000 shots are shown.  Assuming approximately 31,000 shots are struck during a typical tournament (I did some rough estimating), that means for every infraction seen by a viewer, 30 are not seen.

In equity, each player in the field should have the same conditions, and that means disallowing viewer call-ins and emails.  Hopefully this incident will spur the USGA and R&A to propose this one additional, and necessary, change to the Rules of Golf.

By Mark Harman, USGTF National Course Director and contributing writer

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