Though armchair rules officials had been a bane on televised golf for decades, it wasn’t until Lexi Thompson’s tearful tale at last year’s ANA Inspiration that the tide turned strongly against the practice.
The young Floridian appeared on the verge of running away to her second major title, building a three-shot lead through 11 holes. But she bogeyed No.12, and things only got worse when she was approached by a rules official heading to the 13th tee.
A viewer email pointed out Thompson replaced her ball improperly on the 17th green a day earlier – she’d placed her coin to the side of her ball, but returned the ball in front of the coin. Two shot penalty. And two more for signing an incorrect Saturday scorecard.
“I literally thought it was a joke,” said Thompson on Tuesday at Mission Hills, in advance of this week’s ANA Inspiration.
“It was April 1st earlier that week. I’m like, is this a joke right now? I wasn’t expecting that at all.
“I had to obviously play on. It was tough to finish, but I knew I could make birdies and just have to finish strong, and the fans helped me out a lot with that.”
Fighting tears at times, Thompson birdied three of her last six holes to take So Yeon Ryu to a playoff. Ryu, though, won with a birdie on the first extra hole.
Within three weeks, the USGA and R&A issued a new bylaw that allows for “reasonable judgment” errors in determining location. And in December, golf’s professional tours announced they would no longer take rules calls and emails from viewers, but a rules official would monitor each day’s broadcast.