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Yes, it looks bad, but it's what you don't see that's important with Olson-Ariya

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(On backstopping accusations) “All about context. Ariya and I went before Michelle even though she was out. Ariya’s ball was not in my intended line, and to help move things along, I told her it was fine [not to mark]. I had never even heard of the backstopping issue, as I don’t really watch PGA Tour golf that much, and it hasn’t really been an issue on the LPGA.”  - 

The Illuminati wasn’t behind “The Great Backstop Imbroglio” in Thailand this weekend.

Elvis wasn’t in the gallery watching.

There was no “magic bullet” ball in play, though the video replay was dissected almost as vigorously as the Zapruder film.

In the end, the Warren Commission – er, um, sorry – the LPGA determined that Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn did not break Rule 15.3a in the second round of the Honda Thailand tournament.

Alas, conspiracy theorists may never give up believing otherwise.

The social media mob may never put its pitchforks and torches away.

“It was all about context,” Olson said.

She is right.

Context helps explain damning video footage that rendered Olson and Jutanugarn guilty until given a chance to prove themselves innocent.

Context gives Olson and Jutanugarn the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, it absolves them.

That’s my story, and – until an alien autopsy in Area 51 is confirmed – I’m sticking to it.

Yes, this columnist believes backstopping is a creeping evil scourge that must be vanquished, but it’s what you could not see on the video highlights that ought to bring a social media reprieve.

There was more to the story – as there always is – than what we saw in that original video highlight, which really did make it appear as if Olson and Jutanugarn were conspiring to backstop.

We did not see how much pace of play was an issue at the 18th, before Olson hit a chip shot that caromed off a ball that she asked Jutanugarn not to mark, even though the ball was a few feet from the hole. We did not see the wait they endured on the 18th tee, the longer wait they endured in the 18th fairway, and we did not see another wait alongside the 18th green with playing partner Michelle Wie calling for an official to help with a ruling.

That’s the mitigating context here.

“Michelle was waiting for a ruling, so both Ariya and I said we would go first to help pace of play,” Olson said. “When [Ariya] chipped, her ball came to rest about 3 feet outside my intended line. So, just to continue helping pace of play, I said it was fine. I gave her a little wave. I believe that was maybe misconstrued, and my intent was just to help pace of play.”

These were extenuating circumstances you couldn’t see in the Zapruder film – er, um, sorry – in the Thai video highlights.

“One thing we know is, we were not cheating,” Jutanugarn said. “We did not talk, we did not agree with that.”

That’s not to totally excuse Olson and Jutanugarn.

That’s not to excuse them for not knowing the importance of Rule 15.3a, for not understanding their duty to protect the field from players who would like to create a “backstop” for their chip shots.

Not knowing the rules is never an excuse, but in this case it is a mitigating factor, as laid out in the rule itself. The rule specifically requires players to agree to leave a ball unmarked to create a backstop. There’s enough evidence here to give Olson and Jutanugarn the benefit of the doubt in believing they were agreeing to keep the pace of play moving with Wie awaiting a ruling, and with the overall slow play in trying to complete the hole.

Olson and Jutanugarn are guilty of giving pace of play more importance than protecting the field.

That is their mistake, not their high crime, and one they say they will learn from.

“I would absolutely do it differently, and in the future I will be more conscious,” Olson said. “If anything is near the hole, I will have it marked, because that was not my intent. I would love to avoid even the appearance of any blame.”

Olson and Jutanugarn will live with the highlights of them chuckling and fist bumping after their balls collide. They will live with the fuel that will continue to give those who believe they conspired to backstop. But if you know the reputation of these players, there’s also benefit of the doubt believing they were more interested in speeding play than creating an unfair advantage.

So about that alien autopsy in Area 51 ...