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Great debate: Arguing the Lexi ruling

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The ruling that led to a four-stroke penalty for Lexi Thompson during the final round of the ANA Inspiration sparked debate that transcended the game. senior writers Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner were also fired up and went back and forth on email with differing opinions:

HOGGARD: Uncomfortable? Absolutely. Unfortunate? Without a doubt. Avoidable? No, at least not under the current rules. The social universe can scream all they want about how stupid golf is to penalize Lexi Thompson on Sunday, but the fact is she violated a rule and paid the price for it regardless of who reported the infraction.

LAVNER: No one is debating whether a rule was broken here. She clearly played from an incorrect spot. That’s a two-shot penalty. Fine. Why people are (rightfully) fired up is simple: Because TV viewers should not be allowed to determine the outcome of an event – especially a day late. 

HOGGARD: So the alternative to your point is that if a rules official or fellow competitor sees a violation that’s fine, but if someone watching at home sees a violation (a clear violation) that’s just the luck of the draw? Isn’t the point to assure a fair competition, regardless of how an infraction is discovered?

LAVNER: So, if we’re trying to assure a fair competition, regardless of how it was discovered, you’d be OK with armchair officials phoning in missed holding calls in football and blocking charges in basketball and pitches that actually painted the black? Of course not. In those sports, only an official is allowed to call penalties. It should be the same way in golf. Put an official in charge of monitoring the TV feed. If he spots an infraction, there’s a penalty. If he misses it, well, that’s sports, and there are good breaks and bad. Common sense. Keep the viewers out of it. 

HOGGARD: Other sports don’t have 144 competitors spread out over acres of land on a sprawling playing field. Other sports don’t call penalties on themselves. Other sports (with the exception of cricket) don’t go from dawn to dusk over four days. Golf is not like other sports. Also, officials didn’t just take Joe Viewer’s word for it and dole out penalty strokes. They reviewed the footage, countless times we would imagine, before they penalized Thompson. This is no different, for example, than an official asking a fan where a shot went out of bounds or crossed into a hazard to assure the correct drop is taken. How is this different?

LAVNER: Because those aren’t infractions. In the situation you described, rules officials are gathering as much data as possible to make a decision that doesn’t grind pace of play to a halt. The Lexi case is yet another example of how the Rules allow casual fans to play “gotcha!”. Clearly the USGA and R&A have realized this is unfair – that’s why there is a new “reasonable judgment standard” in the proposed rules changes so players aren’t subjected to second-guessing. In 2019, if those changes are approved, Lexi would not have received the second two-shot penalty. 

HOGGARD: And those changes will be a much-needed and welcome adjustment to the golf landscape, but that doesn’t change the reality now. Under the current rules, Thompson deserved her penalty strokes, whether it came from a rules official standing over her shoulder on Saturday, a fellow competitor or a random fan watching at home. This wasn’t a “gotcha” moment. It was the correct execution of the current rules. The alternative is a victory that is overshadowed by an obvious infraction.

LAVNER: Um, that’s not much better than what we now have – an overshadowed major winner, So Yeon Ryu. Here’s guessing video review will soar to the top of the list of priorities for golf’s governing bodies before the next wave of rules changes. (You and I can both agree it’s more significant than the height a player takes a drop.) Video review is beginning to affect more and more big events. Golf deserves a common-sense solution.