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.

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Kaymer in six-way tie for BMW International lead

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 5:29 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - Danish golfer Lucas Bjerregaard shot a 5-under 67 to equal the week's lowest round for a six-way share of the lead after the third round of the BMW International Open on Saturday.

Bjerregaard had eight birdies, a double bogey and a bogey to finish on 5-under 211 - jumping 23 places and joining local favorites Martin Kaymer and Maximilian Kieffer, England's Chris Paisley and Aaron Rai, and Australia's Scott Hend at the top of the leaderboard.

Bjerregaard was fortunate to play before the wind picked up again later in the afternoon.


Full-field scores from the BMW International Open


Kaymer, the 2008 champion, delighted the home supporters with two birdies in his last three holes for a 71.

Finland's Mikko Korhonen and Chile's Nico Geyger were one shot off the lead after rounds of 69 and 73, respectively.

Defending champion Andres Romero equaled the week's best round (67) to be among a large group two shots off the lead going into Sunday, including three-time European Tour winner Andy Sullivan.

Romero is bidding to be the first player to retain the title.

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Watch: You have to see this golf swing to believe it

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 3:29 pm

Ho-sung Choi is a 44-year-old South Korean touring pro who plays primarily on the Japan Golf Tour. This week he's competing in the Asian Tour's Kolon Korea Open, where he is in second place, two shots off the lead, after three rounds. This is especially significant because the Korea Open is an Open Qualiffying event, meaning he could qualify for this year's Open Championship.

That, however, is not why we're writing about Mr. Choi. The video above is why:

We're with Charlie here: We can't wait for Brandel's take on this swing.

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Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

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Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”