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.”

Why?

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.

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."