Doris Chen says she is heartbroken and frustrated.
She had a lot to say when she returned a call to GolfChannel.com late Sunday, responding to a request to hear her side of why she was disqualified from the LPGA's Q-Series last weekend.
Chen was DQ’d after the LPGA investigated a complaint that she played a ball that she had hit out of bounds after her mother moved the ball back in bounds.
The LPGA said in a statement that Chen was penalized for violating Rule 15-3b even after she was informed that an “outside agency” moved her ball. She’s a former teen phenom who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior title in 2010 and then the NCAA women’s individual championship while at USC in 2014.
“I feel hurt,” Chen said. “People are calling me a cheater, with inflammatory words. I’m not a cheater. I never intend to cheat, and I’ve never told my family or friends to move my ball if I push my shot in the woods.”
The story gets complicated for Chen, because two hours after she returned the call, a key observer also returned GolfChannel.com’s call seeking details of what really happened last Friday in the trees along the 17th hole at Pinehurst No. 7.
Alex Valer, Chen’s caddie, said he hates being involved in the public untangling of the events, but he is frustrated by the explanation Chen is now giving and he feels a responsibility to set the record straight.
“It’s a mess,” Valer said. “Doris did the wrong thing. I’m just trying to do the right thing, to be fair to all those players at Q-Series who have worked so hard for a whole year.”
Chen told GolfChannel.com that after pulling her drive left into the trees at the 17th last Friday, she and Valer and a volunteer searched for the ball, until a spectator announced she found it, in a bad lie in pine needles next to a tree.
Chen said when she set up at her ball, a woman came out of the back of a house alongside that hole.
“A homeowner came to me and said she saw somebody kick the ball from a good lie to a bad lie,” Chen said. “She did not mention that the ball was out of bounds.”
Chen said she did not know whether the homeowner accurately saw what happened, because the home was below a small incline where the ball was found. Chen said she chose to play the ball because she believed even if the ball was kicked, it was “still a live ball” and should be played where it lies. She also said she remembered watching TV years ago when something similar unfolded, where a fan moved Tiger Woods’ ball and Woods was instructed to play it where it lies.
Chen said her mother, Yuh-Guey Lin, was following her that day, but her mother was further up ahead on the hole and wasn’t witness to the conversations taking place.
“My mother said she didn’t move the ball,” Chen said. “She doesn’t know what happened.”
Chen said she felt pressure during all of this, because her group was on the clock and rushing to get back in position.
“Apparently, the homeowner told the LPGA later that the ball was moved from out of bounds to in bounds,” Chen said. “I swear to God that is not what she told me. My caddie was a witness. He heard it.”
Valer remembers the events unfolding differently.
Valer said neither he nor Chen saw the ball being moved, but while they were looking for the ball, it was Chen’s mother who announced she discovered the ball.
And when Chen and Valer set up to assess the lie, a woman came running from out of a nearby house, with the woman telling them that the ball was moved by a spectator. She was pointing directly at Chen’s mother.
“She said ‘That person right there kicked your ball,’” Valer said.
Valer said he didn’t know if Chen’s ball was lying out of out of bounds when it was moved, but the fact that they were so close to being out of bounds, and that Chen’s mother was being accused of moving the ball, made the circumstances a potential “disaster.”
Valer said he told Chen that they needed to call a rules official.
“Doris said, ‘No, I’m going to play the ball,’” Valer said. “I told her, ‘If you don’t talk to a rules official, you could be disqualified.’”
Valer said he was upset Chen played the shot, but he told her it still wasn’t too late to call a rules official. He said as they walked to the 18th green, he tried one more time, insisting they call a rules official.
“I told her, ‘If you sign the scorecard, there is a possibility you will be disqualified,’” Valer said.
Valer said Chen asked him to keep quiet about the details of what happened, but when LPGA rules officials questioned him afterward about a possible rules violation, he told them what he saw and heard.
The rules officials then went back and spoke to the homeowners.
GolfChannel.com contacted the LPGA for a reaction to Valer’s version of events.
“We have thoroughly reviewed the facts in this case (both prior to the ruling and afterwards) and there is no ambiguity in the facts or the ruling,” the LPGA rules committee responded in a statement. “The player has accepted the penalty and any further dialogue on this matter will be between the LPGA and the player.”
Valer is a regular LPGA and Symetra Tour caddie, but this was his first event working with Chen. He worked with Katelyn Sepmoree this year.
“As a caddie, I know these players and how hard they work,” Valer said. “I’ve never been in a position like this before, and I’m just trying to do what’s right.”