The game of golf needed to give itself a mulligan earlier this year.
Since it doesn’t do that, it did the next best thing this week.
In a historic blunder, the game allowed a historic outrage in April when a penalty called in by a television viewer undoubtedly cost Lexi Thompson a victory in the final round of the ANA Inspiration tournament, the women’s tour’s first major of the season.
It was even worse than that: The alleged infraction – replacing her ball on a green an inch away from where it had been – was spotted a day before, in the third round. After the viewer emailed tournament officials on Sunday, they disclosed to Thompson in the middle of the final round that they were changing her score from the day before by two strokes – and penalizing her another two strokes for not having somehow divined the two-stroke penalty at the time and signing an “incorrect” scorecard.
Miraculously, she overcame the indescribable heartbreak and the unfair four-stroke penalty to reach a playoff in the final round, but ultimately lost.
The entire golfing world was justly outraged, including players at the Masters immediately after the injustice against Thompson.
Indeed, the injustice had come in layers: that the penalty came a day later, after the third round was in the books; that she was penalized for signing a scorecard that no one at the tournament knew to be incorrect; and that it all came about because one of potentially millions of armchair rules officials watching at home was able to nail her and alter the course of the proceedings.
True, golf is all about integrity. But even so, no other sport would allow fans to call penalties – and certainly not after the competition had finished for the day!
This week, a group representing the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA tour and PGA of America announced that wouldn’t happen again: that tournaments won’t take second-guessing messages from viewers, and that players won’t be penalized for not recording penalties that they simply weren’t aware of.
It comes too late for poor Lexi Thompson. But she can take some solace in the fact that they’ll never do to anyone else what they did to her.