Weeks later, Lexi ruling still a heated topic

By Randall MellApril 21, 2017, 6:06 pm

The LPGA’s black eye isn’t going away.

Lexi Thompson may have been hit hardest when a TV viewer intervened as an armchair referee to help decide another major championship, but she wasn’t the only player wobbled by the nature of the blindside blow.

Nearly three weeks have passed since Thompson lost the ANA Inspiration after being hit with a controversial four-shot penalty in the final round, but even fellow players are still smarting.

There’s something about this viewer intervention that’s different than any of the past in the men’s or women’s games. There’s something about this one that won’t go away.

There’s lingering anger in the player ranks.

“Everyone’s pissed off, not just players,” two-time major champion Cristie Kerr said. “Random golfers I see are coming up and saying, ‘Can you believe what happened? It’s an outrage.’ People aren’t happy.”

Thompson may have lost the ANA Inspiration in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu, but LPGA pros as a group appear to have lost something, too. They seemed to have finally lost all patience with TV viewers getting free rein to be armchair referees.

“We’re all up in arms over that,” said Brittany Lincicome, a two-time winner of the ANA Inspiration. “There’s definitely a lot of us talking about this, and it’s definitely very frustrating for us.”

Video: Alternate Shot: Solutions for Lexi penalty?

There is frustration among players in not knowing if Thompson’s fate is finally going to motivate the USGA to curb, tame or outright abolish viewer interventions as armchair rules officials. There is also frustration in not knowing how much the LPGA is pushing to bring about that change.

LPGA pros say they aren’t hearing anything from the USGA or their own tour.

GolfChannel.com requested an interview with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan for this story on Tuesday and was told he was traveling, then was told on Wednesday that he was in meetings at a conference and was told on Thursday that he was unavailable while traveling again. When GolfChannel.com asked if an interview could be set up on Friday, an LPGA spokesperson said he still wouldn’t be available.

Three requests to interview senior USGA officials for this story over the last week were unfulfilled, though a spokesperson provided a statement and background information.

“I have a ton of concerns, and I feel like it’s just being swept under the rug,” Lincicome said. “It feels like there’s nothing being done, and it’s just, ‘Hey that’s the way the rule is, and this is how it’s going to continue to be.’

“We’ve been talking about it as players, and I think we’re all on the same page in not knowing if anything’s really going to be done about viewers calling in or sending emails. I don’t know if we need somebody to take up a petition, and we all need to sign it and give it to the USGA, but they’re not even talking to us about whether they are trying to come up with a better solution.”

For a lot of LPGA pros, it has come to the point where “enough is enough” with these viewer interventions.

For them, Thompson’s four-shot wallop was the last straw.

Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler, told GolfChannel.com that Lexi isn’t ready to comment publicly, but that she will speak to media for the first time since the ANA next Wednesday at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout.

Kreusler said he isn’t surprised players feel like there’s unfinished business in the wake of the ANA ruling.

“We have been inundated with emails, comments and letters from people expressing their outrage, and not only their disappointment but disgust over what happened,” Kreusler said. “At this point, I think, on behalf of Lexi, we are entitled to have a true and transparent accounting of what happened, by that I mean all the information behind how this occurred, ranging from whether this was actually a viewer, where they were from, why there was a delay (in reporting), where the email was actually sent to, who received it, and on down the line.

“I’m looking for that information not only on Lexi’s behalf, but on behalf of the entire field, every player that was in that tournament and will play in future tournaments, because this could have happened to anyone.

“The field and all of the LPGA players are deserving of knowing exactly how the email happened, who was responsible, so we can make sure it was an honest, fair and equitable playing field for all. Unfortunately, I don’t have that feeling right now and there are an awful lot of people out there who feel exactly the same way.”

If you need a refresher, Thompson was two shots ahead on the back nine in the final round of the ANA Inspiration, putting on a tour-de-force performance in her bid to win her second major championship. As Thompson was making her way to the 13th tee, Sue Witters approached her with devastating news. The LPGA’s vice president of rules and competition told Thompson she was being penalized two shots for violating Rule 20-7c for incorrectly marking her ball on the 17th green in Saturday’s round. Additionally, she was being penalized two more shots for violating Rule 6-6d for signing an incorrect scorecard.

The LPGA explained afterward that a viewer had emailed their fan feedback site with the possible infraction on Sunday as Thompson was playing late into the front nine, and that an LPGA.com staffer quickly forwarded the email to Witters with Thompson playing the ninth hole. Witters quickly went to the Golf Channel TV compound to review video.

Thompson was in tears as she teed up to play the 13th, going from two shots ahead to two shots down in practically the blink of an eye. Still, she somehow managed to birdie that hole, the 15th and the 18th to get into the playoff with Ryu.

Video: SI writer defends viewer call-ins

Kreusler said Thompson is grateful for the outpouring of support she has received since the ANA Inspiration ended, and that it isn’t limited to fans.

“We’ve also been contacted by several sponsors, including those that might be the biggest on the LPGA, expressing their extreme displeasure and unhappiness and their belief that there needs to be a full accounting in a truly transparent manner,” Kreusler said.

For Thompson’s colleagues, there’s a feeling of unfinished business to this ruling, including an intense clamor to know the identity of the viewer who emailed in the possible infraction.

“We all want to know who it was,” Kerr said. “That’s the bigger story here. It’s relevant who it’s coming from.”


There’s an element of golf that sees viewer intervention adding to the nobility of the game, to making sure any rule violation is addressed.

But players see something potentially sinister exposed about armchair refereeing in the way the Thompson ruling came down.

What if a “viewer” is actually another player or caddie, or a parent of a player, or a friend of a player? And what if a “viewer” with a vested interest sees an infraction in an early round but holds on to the information until the final round, waiting to see if reporting the infraction would assist a player whom the viewer favors? By holding on to the information, the “viewer” knows he could inflict the most possible harm by waiting until after the player signs her scorecard.

While actual rules officials have ethical duties to the field, armchair referees do not. They can selectively report, or not report, violations they witness.

If a viewer with a grudge focuses on monitoring just a single player, is the honorable game as honorable allowing that?

“They definitely aren’t going to release this viewer’s name,” Lincicome said. “It’s probably some guy living at home with his mother, sitting at his computer watching. But you don’t know. It’s another reason this is so ridiculous and they need to stop allowing viewers to call in.”

Kerr sees a problem with the motivation viewers may have.

“A person could withhold the information until after a player signs her scorecard,” Kerr said. “What if it’s an agent, or a friend of a friend of the winner? I’m not saying that happened, not at all, but it could happen, where it’s somebody biased toward one of the players on the leaderboard.

“It’s another reason you would like to know who the viewer is. This is too big a story not to know who it is.”

Who is the viewer who reported Thompson’s violation?

GolfChannel.com asked the LPGA for the viewer’s name but was denied the request.

Why? LPGA chief of tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio said it was tour policy not to divulge viewer emails.

GolfChannel.com asked Daly-Donofrio if the tour verified the identity of the viewer who emailed the infraction.

“We have verified who the person is,” Daly-Donofrio said. “I can tell you with complete certainty that it wasn’t a player, it wasn’t a caddie, and it wasn’t anybody related to anybody that I know connected with the tour in any way.”

While Whan wasn’t available to be interviewed for this story, he was empathetic to Thompson in the immediate wake of the ANA ruling.

“It’s frustrating,” Whan told Matt Adams on Sirius XM PGA Tour radio two days after the ANA. “It’s embarrassing. It’s one of those situations where the penalty does not match the crime.”

Whan also said his staff would review the nature of armchair refereeing in the wake of the ANA ruling.

“I think it’s a fair critique and a fair criticism whether or not somebody can point something out that causes us to review it, and whether or not we should do that a day later . . . To change requires us to think through the pros and cons and make sure we are making the right decision. We are going through that process, but we are not going to rush in and do is simply draped in the anxiety and pain of Sunday,” Whan said.

Last week, GolfChannel.com also sought an interview with Whan on this topic. A tour spokesperson replied that Whan was releasing a statement instead, one that indicated the LPGA would be relying on the USGA and R&A to address this complicated issue.

“The Masters was an opportunity for me to meet with the heads of the USGA and the R&A, as well as heads of the PGA and European tours,” Whan said. “To be honest, I’m optimistic about the potential outcome of those discussions. It’s quite clear to me that the organizations that govern the Rules of Golf fully understand the challenges that we faced at the ANA Inspiration and are already actively discussing potential changes.”

When the USGA backed the LPGA’s ANA ruling the day after the event, it cited its proposed modernization of the Rules of Golf as future help in certain viewer call-in situations. Proposed Rule 1.3a(2) will provide that “so long as the player does all that he can be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation or measurement, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted even if later shows to be wrong by other information.”

The USGA plans to implement the modernization proposal in 2019, but USGA director of public relations Janeen Driscoll confirmed that the governing body is “listening and reviewing all options,” including the possibility of expediting some of these rule changes.

For a lot of LPGA pros, changes to viewer intervention can’t come fast enough.

“In this day and age, I just don’t think anybody should be able to call in and affect the outcome of a tournament,” Hall of Famer Juli Inkster told GolfChannel.com. “You have the scorer there, you have your other two playing partners there. Golf is a game of integrity. I just think there isn’t another sport where you can actually call in and make a difference. I just think they need to get rid of it.”

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are among PGA Tour pros who have voiced the same opinion about viewer interventions.

The way the Rules of Golf work now, once final-round scores are finalized, the tournament is official. Any infraction discovered after that cannot be applied.

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin believes the rule should be amended to where results are official after the close of every round. 

Anna Nordqvist, who lost the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle last summer after a video replay showed she grazed a few grains of sand taking back her 5-iron in a fairway bunker in a playoff with Brittany Lang, believes video review needs immediate addressing. Nordqvist’s complaint was also with the timing of her penalty, which gave Lang a certain advantage playing her final full shot in that playoff.

“It was disappointing to see another bad timing,” Nordqvist said of the Thompson ruling. “This rule is the major one that needs to be changed now.”

Inkster said the USGA and R&A’s new rules modernization should be amended to more thoroughly address viewer call-ins.

“That needs to be at the top of the priority list,” Inkster said.

The LPGA eagerly awaits such a change in hopes it helps heal its black eye.

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Focus shifts to Augusta as Woods continues to impress

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 12:30 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – On the final question of his final meeting with the media at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger Woods offered his shortest and most direct response of the week.

Back when he launched this latest version of his comeback, before the Hero World Challenge in December when his world was filled with more doubt than possibility, could he have envisioned heading down Magnolia Lane carrying as much momentum as he’ll have on his fused back in a couple weeks?

“No,” he said.

That was it, outside of maybe the slightest hint of a grin. But there was also nothing more that needed to be said.

Woods’ bid for a record ninth title at Bay Hill ended when his tee shot on No. 16 bounded over a fence and out of bounds Sunday. His title bid last week at the Valspar Championship lasted two holes longer but eventually arrived at the same conclusion: close, but not quite enough.

But given where Woods stood a few months ago – even a few weeks ago – his Masters preparation has been nothing short of a success.

“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year, that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken it in a heartbeat,” Woods said.

In three straight starts in the Sunshine State, Woods compiled three top-12 finishes. He nearly broke the Trackman equipment with his driver swing speed, flaunted a transformative short game and stirred memories of years gone by with each shockwave he sent through the galleries.

And yes, that continued in a big way Sunday at Bay Hill as there was about a 45-minute stretch where it seemed like maybe, possibly, Woods might somehow find a way to chase down Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson.

“It was a clinic I thought today, except for two tee balls,” said caddie Joe LaCava. “No. 9 he got away with it, but you know what I mean. It was a clinic ball-striking except for the tee balls at 9 and 16. Other than that, it was great.”

This week Woods officially became the Masters betting favorite in Las Vegas, a statement that would have seemed ludicrous to type in the wake of his missed cut at the Genesis Open just four short weeks ago. At that point his ability to simply tee it up the following week at PGA National was seen as a great coup, and a sign that he might still be able to make a go of it in his latest comeback attempt after so many previous attempts were aborted or derailed by further injury.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Now here we sit, with his last competitive shot before the Masters in the rear-view mirror, and suddenly the man seems to have all the shots necessary to make a legitimate run at a fifth green jacket.

“I’m looking forward to it. I miss playing there,” Woods said. “I’ve been there for the dinner, and as great as that is, it’s frustrating knowing that I’m, I would have to say, young enough to play the event where some of the other champions are not. And I just have not been able to physically do it, which is difficult.”

It’s a testament to Woods’ rapid ascent that the number of questions he faces about his health and stamina dwindle with each passing round. Seemingly overnight, the focus has shifted back to mental preparedness, shot selection and equipment tweaks he might make in order to nab his first win in nearly five years.

In the span of a few weeks, performances that once seemed on the brink of extinction have become the new normal.

“I don’t want to get too high or too low. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But you’re seeing improvement each week,” LaCava said. “I know you hear that from him, too. But it just seems like he’s getting better and better with his swing and trusting it more, which I think is huge.”

The latest effort came Sunday on a course he knows like few others. Woods realized entering the day that the odds were stacked against him, and as it turns out even his most valiant effort wouldn’t have been enough to keep pace with McIlroy. But when he buried a birdie putt on No. 13 to get within a shot of the lead, his third in the last four holes, a familiar glint returned to his eye as he trudged to the 14th tee.

Realizing the moment, the ever-expanding crowd responded with a “Tiger! Tiger!” chant that enveloped the tee box and caused McIlroy to step back off his birdie putt across the lake on the 11th green. And while his title bid ended in abrupt fashion a couple holes later, it was still a snapshot from a scene that so recently seemed improbable.

For a second straight Sunday, Woods donned his traditional red and black and exceeded expectations. Even, as it turns out, the ones he set for himself.

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Tiger can't commit, goes OB on 16: 'That’s on me'

By Will GrayMarch 18, 2018, 11:05 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Standing on the 16th tee with the leaders in sight and the roars of the crowd still ringing in his ears, Tiger Woods contemplated three different options for his most critical tee shot of the week.

He couldn’t decide on any of them, and as a result deposited his chances of winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational into a backyard adjacent to the fairway.

Woods was only one shot back through 15 holes, but with the leaders well behind him on the course he knew he needed at least a birdie on the par-5 16th to keep pace. Instead, he pulled his tee shot left and out of bounds, leading to an untimely and costly bogey on the easiest hole on the course.

“I was caught,” Woods said. “I couldn’t decide what I was going to do.”

In Woods’ mind, he had three options: “fit” a driver left to right with the shape of the fairway, “bomb it over the top” of the dogleg or just hit a 3-wood “straight away.” He opted for the driver, but after missing right the first three days he sent his ball sailing left.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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“I bailed out and hit a bad shot,” Woods said. “And that’s on me for not committing.”

Woods went on to bogey the next hole, but after a par save on No. 18 he finished the week in a tie for fifth at 10 under for his third straight top-12 finish. Given the sizzling close of Rory McIlroy, an eagle on 16 likely would have still left him looking up at the Ulsterman on the leaderboard.

“Even though I got up there, I just knew I needed to keep making birdies,” Woods said. “Those guys had so many holes behind me, where I just birdied the same holes and so if they made birdie on those holes, I would have to keep going. I got to 16, I figure I’ve got to play the last three holes in 3 under to have a chance and probably force a playoff. And maybe that wouldn’t have been good enough the way Rory is playing back there.”

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McIlroy (64) storms to Arnold Palmer victory

By Nick MentaMarch 18, 2018, 10:48 pm

Rory McIlroy fired a bogey-free, final-round 64, birdied the 72nd hole in Tiger-esque fashion and stormed to a three-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how Rory ended his winless drought, and how the aforementioned Woods made a Sunday charge before collapsing late:

Leaderboard: McIlroy (-18), Bryson DeChambeau (-15), Justin Rose (-14), Henrik Stenson (-13), Woods (-10), Ryan Moore (-10)

What it means: This is McIlroy’s 14th PGA Tour victory and his first worldwide win since Sept. 25th, 2016. That was the day he walked away from East Lake with both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup. It was also the day Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87. With the win, McIlroy reasserts himself as a force following a winless 2017 in which he was plagued by a nagging rib injury. The four-time major winner will make one more start at next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and then make his way to Augusta National, where he looks to complete the career Grand Slam.

Round of the day: Two back to start the final round, McIlroy made his eight birdies in bunches. He circled three of his last four holes on the front nine – Nos. 6, 7 and 9 – to make the turn in 3-under 33 and work his way into the mix. Following three pars at 10-12, he caught fire, ripping off five birdies in his final six holes. He took the outright lead at 14, chipped in at 15, and sealed the deal at 18.

Best of the rest: DeChambeau made McIlroy earn it, cutting the lead to just one when he eagled the 16th hole as McIlroy was walking to the final tee. A par at 17 and a bogey at 18 netted him 68 and solo second.

Big disappointment: This is Stenson’s fourth top-five finish at this event in the last six years. The overnight leader by one, he went 71-71 over the weekend and bogeyed 18 to finish fourth.

Biggest disappointment: Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 and a tie for fifth.The eight-time API winner was minus-5 on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par.

Shot of the day: McIlroy’s birdie putt at 18.

Remind you of anything?

Quote of the day: "It means a lot. You know, the last time I won a PGA Tour event was the day Mr. Palmer passed away, so it's a little bit ironic that I come here and win. He set a great example for all of us players to try and follow in his footsteps. If everyone on Tour could handle themselves the way Arnie did, the game of golf would be in a better place. ... To be able to win his event, I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him but I'm so happy to my name on that trophy." - McIlroy

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TT postscript: Masters hype builds after final-round charge

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 10:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Here are some thoughts from walking one last loop alongside Tiger Woods on another steamy afternoon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

• What might have been. Woods transformed Bay Hill into an absolutely electric atmosphere when he started the back nine with three birdies in four holes to get within a shot of the lead. Dressed in his traditional red and black, it was a second straight Sunday where we were treated to watching him try to catch the leaders down the stretch.

• But the momentum he had built up disappeared with a single tee shot, as Woods pulled his drive on the par-5 16th out of bounds and into someone’s backyard. His chances for a ninth tournament title were effectively ended with one errant swing, as he bogeyed the easiest hole on the course and then bogeyed the next for good measure.

• While the closing stretch was disappointing, it was still another remarkable week for Woods considering where his game stood a month ago. His 3-under 69 in the final round lifted him to 10 under for the week, and he ended up in a tie for fifth. He’s now on the cusp of the top 100 in the world rankings, and he’ll head to the Masters on the heels of three straight top-12 finishes for the first time since 2008.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

• It didn’t take long after his final putt dropped for Augusta National to become a topic of conversation. Woods has played only once since 2014, and he plans to make a return trip before the season’s first major to re-acclimate himself with the course and make sure his yardage book “is still good.”

• Taking the long view on things, Woods was all smiles about his comeback that remains a work in progress. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments,” Woods said, “I would have taken that in a heartbeat.”

After going T-2 and T-5 in this latest fortnight, Woods will now have two weeks off before he tees it up for a chance to win his fourth green jacket, his first major since 2008 and his first tournament anywhere since 2013. Can. Not. Wait.