Have you ever wondered what it would be like to officiate a major sporting event? To be the one who decides rules violations--perhaps even influencing the outcome of the game? You might think that to do so would require years of working lower-level contests, passing multitudes of rules tests and being graded amongst the best of your peers. In nearly all sports, that is true. But in one sport, you--with no certification or experience--can officiate the best in the game--and that is golf.
The Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour held its first major of the season this weekend--The ANA Inspiration. On the 12th hole in Sunday's final round, Lexi Thompson held a two shot lead on the field when she was informed that she was going to be assessed two, two-stroke penalties for incorrectly replacing her ball after marking its location on the 17th green during Saturday's third round.
The LPGA was alerted to this rules infraction not by another player, a rules official or even a volunteer marshall on that hole. It wasn't even someone at the tournament itself. Instead, a TV viewer at home (reportedly--but not confirmed--a rules official from another professional tour) had been watching the previous day's action on the DVR and thought that Thompson had failed to put her ball back in the same spot it had been before. He then sent an email to the Tour--which asked the Golf Channel for the video footage of the hole. A blown-up look at the marker and the ball showed that the viewer was right. Thompson was then assessed a retroactive two stroke penalty for playing a ball from a wrong location--and then a second two stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard on Saturday--even though there is no way she could have known that she was being assessed the first two stroke penalty at that time.
Needless to say, sports social media immediately exploded, with fellow golfers, reporters and commentators all going off on the LPGA for 1--listening to a TV viewer about a rules violation and 2--waiting more than 24-hours to assess a penalty to the woman leading the tournament. Unfortunately, precedent for this sort of thing was set years ago (Craig Stadler on the PGA Tour lost a tournament back in the early 1980's after he knelt on a towel to play a shot under a tree so his pants didn't get dirty, and a CBS TV viewer called the Tour to claim that "The Walrus" had "built a stance"). Believe it or not, had it not been for a rule change this year, Thompson would have been disqualified in the middle of Sunday's round for signing for the wrong score--instead of getting hit with the second two-stroke penalty.
Amazingly, Lexi actually battled back from that two stroke deficit to force a playoff--with fans chanting her name as she came down the 18th fairway in support of a player wronged by the system. Unfortunately, she lost that playoff--yet somehow still found the poise to conduct a post-round interview with the Golf Channel and sign autographs for kids on the way to the locker room.
So this week if when you are watching The Masters in 4k Ultra High Definition, make sure to have your copy of the Rules of Golf beside you and look for ever mis-marked ball, any potential shift in a ball's position after a player addresses it or drop that may not have been done in quite the right spot and be ready to call, text or email your "alert" to Augusta National Golf Club, CBS or the PGA Tour. Who knows, you might decide who puts on the green jacket--and never have to leave your couch to do it.