HAVE you heard the news? Australian legend Peter Thomson is now a six-time British Open champion. Well, he is if we apply the same farcical ruling that robbed American Lexi Thompson of the season’s opening Major – April’s ANA Inspiration.
“Is this a joke?” a stunned Thompson asked an LPGA rules official who had informed her between the 12th green and 13th tee of the final round that, after reviewing video footage that had been brought to their attention by a home viewer, she was being docked two two-stroke penalties for an imperceptible violation made in the third round a day earlier. Thompson was adjudged to have incorrectly placed her ball back on the green in front of her marker. The four penalty strokes immediately erased Thompson’s two-shot lead and replaced it with a two-shot deficit that soured the second Major championship won by So Yeon Ryu, who defeated a visibly distressed Thompson with a birdie on the first playoff hole at Mission Hills Country Club.
Whichever way you looked at it, the moment stank, and was eerily reminiscent of last year’s US Open at Oakmont, where Dustin Johnson, in the midst of the final round, was assessed a penalty for having caused his ball to move on a green. He went on to win anyway, but all everyone could talk about was the rules farce he overcame to do so.
And who could forget the penalty given to Tiger Woods in the 2013 Masters for taking an improper drop that was identified via television by David Eger, a former senior director of rules and competition for the USGA.
Last year’s US Women’s Open didn’t escape without its rules controversy, either, when Brittany Lang defeated Anna Nordqvist in a playoff after Nordqvist was penalised for brushing the sand in a fairway bunker, an infraction brought to the USGA’s attention by, you guessed it, another armchair expert watching at home.
Now turn your mind back to the 1957 British Open at St Andrews where South African great Bobby Locke found his ball in the line of playing partner Bruce Crampton’s putt on the 72nd hole. Locke used his putterhead to mark his ball off the line of Crampton’s putt but forgot to replace his ball in its original position when it was his turn to putt. He went on to hole out from the incorrect mark and the error was later picked up on film and reported to officials, but not before Locke was presented with the Claret Jug. Locke finished three shots clear of Thomson, and rules officials decreed that no advantage had been gained.
So was Lexi’s sketchy placing of her ball really ‘advantageous’ in the grand scheme of things? If so, shouldn’t our man Thommo receive Locke’s Claret Jug, who under the same ruling, would be docked four penalty strokes to hand Thommo a one-shot victory? It seems ridiculous to even joke about it, but where do we draw the line on rule reviews? How late is too late to impose a penalty? And, should random members of the public really be able to influence a result – and potentially a player’s career – from the comfort of their couch?
The latest debacle was an untimely reminder that the R&A and USGA have proposed several rule changes that if adopted would go into effect in 2019. One of those proposed changes would seemingly prevent this embarrassment from occurring again. But we shouldn’t have to wait two more years for clarity. This farce has gone on for far too long and reflects poorly on a bunch of individuals who are convinced they are governing the game with honour, integrity and professionalism when they are doing anything but.
Make no mistake – everyone should be encouraged to uphold the rules of golf at all times. But when these rules aren’t policed until 24 hours after the sin is committed, the game loses a little more credibility.
Let’s stop the tomfoolery and play golf.
ARE GOLFERS TOO SELFISH?
Does golf lack genuine sportsmanship when it comes to the final leaderboard? Consider this: Aussie cricketer Adam Gilchrist was famous for ‘walking’ when the umpire gave him not out but he knew he was. He did it because he firmly believed it was the right thing to do in the spirit of the game. In soccer, when a player goes down injured it’s a gentlemen’s agreement that both teams halt the game by kicking the ball out of play so the player can get medical treatment and there’s no numerical advantage for one team. Knowing what had just unfolded with Lexi Thompson’s penalty ruling, should So Yeon Ryu have conceded on the first playoff hole to allow Thompson a heartwarming victory? While deserving of the victory herself, one wonders if such an act of righteousness would have done more for the Korean’s career – in terms of popularity and endorsements – than a second Major victory that will forever be marked with an asterisk.
What do you think? E-mail me at [email protected]