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Golf needs a disconnect from (a few of) its fans

April 4, 2017

Imagine if you will this scenario.

You are on your way home from work one particular evening. You live in a quiet, peaceful subdivision with several nice homes located on several small streets that all intersect with stop signs.

You make a right, then another right, then a left. You pull into your driveway, turn off the motor, go inside to have a nice dinner with your family and enjoy some TV before bed. Then it’s back to work the next day. You know the routine.

The next night, you take the same route home as always - two rights, then a left - only this time as you get ready to pull into your driveway, there’s a police car sitting where you normally park. The officer waits for you to get out of your car and walks over and hands you a traffic citation.

He proceeds to inform you that the ticket is for failing to come to a total and complete stop at one of the intersections in the neighborhood. He said that you were almost completely stopped at the sign, but your car was still rolling just a hair and that’s against the law.

And then he tells you that the violation occurred yesterday.

“But there were no other cars around and certainly no police cars at that intersection at that time of day,” you try to protest. “Why am I getting a ticket now?”

The officer then informs you that a citizen sitting in his yard, taking a video of his kid riding his bicycle, caught the traffic infraction on his cell phone as he was filming his child. Being the law-abiding citizen that he is, he went to the police station the next day, showed them the incriminating evidence and declared that you be punished to the full letter of the law for violating the traffic code.

The officer says he has no choice, because even though he - as a person who is authorized to make a ruling such as this - personally didn’t see you fail to come to a complete stop, a private citizen did and had video proof and how could he (the officer) just let it go?

If you’re like me, you would be flabbergasted, bewildered and more than a little P.O.’ed.

And now you know what Lexi Thompson feels like.

Thompson is an star on the LPGA Tour. She was playing in a major golf tournament this past weekend and had a two-shot lead in the final round on Sunday when she was met by an LPGA rules official on the 13th tee.

The rules official then proceeded to inform Thompson of a violation of Rule 20-7c, in which she replaced her ball an inch away from its original position on the 17th hole on SATURDAY before she tapped in a ONE-FOOT PUTT.

She went on to tell Thompson that the penalty was two strokes for the infraction and two additional strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard after the round, even though the rules official following Thompson’s group on Saturday, nor Thompson’s playing partner, ever called or even caught the violation.

Then the kicker. Thompson was told that the violation was spotted by a golf fan. Not a fan physically at the tournament, but one watching the tournament on television somewhere, who then sent an email, which was read by the tournament officials, who proceeded to review the video of the alleged infraction.

The rules officials agreed that the infraction had occurred and chose that particular moment to tell Thompson, six holes from winning a major tournament in which she was leading, that a four-stroke penalty had been incurred and that she was no longer in the lead.

Thompson was livid and she had every right to be.

To her credit, she battled back and forced a playoff, but a birdie by her playoff opponent relegated her to the runner-up trophy.

Look, this isn’t about whether or not she broke a rule. If you follow the letter of the golf rule book, she did, although virtually every golf commentator and expert worth his or her salt has come out and said Thompson made a reasonable effort to return the ball to its original position on the green after she marked it.

Thompson simply didn’t stand in the exact same position to replace the ball as she did when she marked it. The difference was one inch, maybe less, on a putt that’s a “gimme” for even high handicap golfers.

The USGA has proposed a rule change that would prevent these types of things from happening by invoking what they are calling a “reasonable judgment standard” (i.e., common sense), but this rule wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 and there are bigger issues that need to be addressed way before 2019.

Like now.

First of all, why in the world is the LPGA, the PGA and USGA continuing to allow random people watching at home on TV to contact the tournament and report rules violations (and how the heck do these people know who to call and email anyway)? Isn’t that why these tournaments have rules officials watching each group?

When you are willing to accept help on rules violations from some guy sitting on his couch, wearing sweatpants, chugging soda and eating Funyuns, it doesn’t speak too highly of your tournament or your organization.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. Fans have been calling in rules violations in pro golf events for years now. Decades even. Can you imagine any other sport allowing this to happen? Phones would be lit up and computers would crash from all the traffic from irate fans reporting holding penalties and moving screens.

And then they wait 24 hours, after the final round is two-thirds complete, to inform the person receiving the penalty that she was being penalized? In a MAJOR GOLF TOURNAMENT? Are you kidding me?

I don’t know who to be more ticked off at - the busybody watching at home who wanted to be golf’s version a social justice warrior or the tournament organizers and the sport’s governing bodies for not firing back an email and telling this person “thanks, but we have rules officials and you’re not one of them.”

Which brings me to my second point. Thompson is the biggest American star on the LPGA Tour and one of its most popular players. She is going to have every hole televised because people want to see her play and the network wants viewers.

How do we know that some other player earlier in the day, a less-popular player that barely made the cut and was likely going to finish in last place, didn’t commit a violation on the course that same day? Maybe they did the exact same thing Thompson did.

The difference being that this other player doesn’t have a big fan base. Maybe she was on camera for two or three shots at best all day long. Maybe she had a violation on practically every hole, but she wasn’t on TV when it happened so no one at home could see it.

This isn’t like the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball, where every player has a camera on them and every play can be seen and/or replayed. It’s completely and totally unfair to penalize Thompson like this when not everyone in the tournament gets the same amount of TV coverage, which we know now is the only reason the violation was spotted in the first place.

It’s unrealistic, of course, to think that every golfer in every tournament can have every shot televised. There are too many golfers, too many shots and not enough time or resources for that and I have no idea how to make TV coverage fair for all the golfers involved.

But I do know this. The sport doesn’t need to wait two more years to address these types of issues. The LPGA, the PGA and the USGA need to come out right now - not a moment later - and tell the fans watching for violations at home to mind their own business.

And while they are at it, maybe they can change their cell phone numbers or get a new email address.

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Scott Herpst is the Sports Editor of the Walker County Messenger.