Thompson needs to tell her side of ANA incident

By Randall MellApril 24, 2017, 7:08 pm

Lexi Thompson’s agent asked the LPGA in strong terms for a “true and transparent accounting” of the details of the viewer’s intervention that impacted the outcome of the ANA Inspiration three weeks ago.

That goes both ways.

When Thompson meets the media for the first time since a four-shot penalty derailed her chance at winning a second major championship, there will be an accounting due there, too. She’s scheduled for a pretournament news conference in suburban Dallas on Wednesday at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout.

It will be the first time Thompson gets to fully explain what she was seeing and thinking as she marked her ball in the infraction in question at the 17th hole of Saturday’s third round. 

While LPGA players may be “up in arms” over yet another TV viewer’s intervention, as a prominent major champion told last week, you aren’t hearing players step up to defend the way Thompson marked her ball.

In fact, there has been curious silence on that front from the LPGA player ranks, even among players asked directly about it at the Lotte Championship the week after the ANA.

Clearly, fellow pros are curious to hear what Thompson has to say about the video replay that shows she shifted her ball over to a different spot on her mark before finishing up what’s being estimated as a 15-inch putt.

It was a violation of Rule 20-7c, “playing from the wrong place.” That two-shot penalty led to another two-shot penalty for violating Rule 6-6d for signing an incorrect scorecard.

In the immediate aftermath of her loss, Thompson said any mismarking of the ball was unintentional, that she didn’t realize she did anything wrong, but the more the replay has been shown, the more questions have intensified.

Thompson was everyone’s darling at the ANA Inspiration, with fans there chanting her name and appearing to try to will her to victory after learning of the four-shot penalty. While she still has enormous support, the repeated replay of her marking the ball, with the zoomed-up camera shot, has made the debate over that infraction more polarizing within social media and Internet comment sections.

So, there will be players and fans alike looking for transparency when Thompson meets with media on Wednesday.

After seeing replays, does she agree she committed an infraction?

Or does she think there may be some optical illusion created in the nature of the camerawork?

And why did she come in from the side of the ball to mark it?

What most viewers don’t see in the zoomed-in version of the replay is that Thompson’s ball is in the putting line of Sung Hyun Park, explaining why Thompson comes in from the side, to stay off Park’s line. But the replay also shows that Thompson’s eyes never appear to leave her ball and mark when she leans over and quickly marks and replaces.

And why didn’t Thompson ask to see the replay immediately after her round, before the playoff with So Yeon Ryu began?

Intent is first and foremost on the minds of players, and only Thompson knows that.

If she doesn’t believe she committed an infraction, then the camera work has to be explained.

If she says she may have been rushed and gotten careless after coming in from the side, playing her 27th hole late in the day, with long shadows showing there had to be a bit of a rush to complete play before sunset, then fellow players will weigh the reasonableness of that explanation with what they see in the replay.

It all comes down to three possibilities:

1. There was a careless mistake.

2. There was a willful violation, to improve the putting line.

3. There was some optical illusion in the camerawork.

When you watch Thompson mark the ball in real time, without the enhanced zoom, it’s difficult to see how a TV viewer actually spotted a problem with the mark. From this observer’s perspective, you almost had to be looking for it.

Ultimately, what fellow players conclude matters in these things, because integrity is so important in the game, with reputations stained by unresolved suspicion.

Thompson lost a major championship over this, and so the questions remain important. Nobody wants to see her reputation also unfairly impugned.

That’s the thing about a community of golfers. If improper markings are as much of a problem in the women’s game as Phil Mickelson says they are in the men’s game, then how the rest of the field deals with that matters.

If a player suspects a certain player of being fast and loose with the way she marks her ball, but she isn’t certain enough to confront the player or a rules official, then any complaint to other players in the locker room or over dinner is malicious gossip. It borders on character assassination because of what it suggests.

If a player is certain another player habitually plays with her mark to gain an advantage, but that player doesn’t confront the offender or bring in a rules official, then that player is derelict in her duty. She’s failing to protect the field.

There’s another accounting due in all of this.

It goes to LPGA pros “up in arms” over TV viewer intervention, their feeling that “enough is enough” with the viewer call-ins and emails impacting outcomes.

LPGA pros aren’t alone in that.

In the aftermath of the Thompson ruling, Tiger Woods and Gary Player joined Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb among big names calling for the USGA and R&A to prohibit viewers from being able to call in violations. Will the USGA and R&A respond in any emphatic way?

There are those within the women’s game who would like to see this go away, because it’s a black eye for the tour, but there’s still too much at stake in what change should or shouldn’t come about because of what happened to Thompson.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquinn Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.