Monday, April 3, 2017

Major Disappointment

As Lexi Thompson walked up the 18th fairway on Sunday at the L.P.G.A.’s first major of the year, she was serenaded by loud chants of “Lex-i,” leading her eyes to well with tears. It was an incongruous moment that reflected an intensely emotional day in which the popular Thompson won new fans because of the way she lost the tournament.

Thompson, 22, appeared to be cruising to her second major championship when she was informed at the end of the 12th hole that she was being assessed a four-stroke penalty. It was a result of an infraction that a viewer had noticed while watching Saturday’s third-round telecast.

Just like that, Thompson’s two-stroke lead at the ANA Inspiration became a two-stroke deficit.

Despite the startling setback, Thompson regrouped well enough to force a playoff with So Yeon Ryu, who won with a birdie on the first extra hole, the par-5 18th. That came after Thompson narrowly missed an eagle putt on the last hole of regulation that would have delivered her the victory.

It was the second major title for Ryu, who also won the 2011 United States Women’s Open in extra holes. Thompson closed with a five-under-par 67 and Ryu a 68 as both finished at 14 under at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. And yet all those numbers ended up as footnotes to the consternation fostered by the four-stroke penalty.

“I wasn’t expecting what happened today,” Thompson said afterward as tears rolled down her face.

“But I’ll learn from it,’’ she added.

The long-hitting Thompson was told about the penalty as she made her way to the 13th tee after a bogey at 12 had whittled her lead. An L.P.G.A. rules official walked alongside her and explained the four-stroke penalty: two strokes for improperly replacing her ball on the second-to-last green of her third round, which meant she had then played the ball from the wrong spot, and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.

A television viewer had contacted tournament officials as the final round was underway to bring attention to Thompson’s actions Saturday on the 17th green, when she marked her ball and placed it back down roughly a half-inch from the original spot. Thompson’s initial reaction to being told about the penalty, as captured during the final-round television broadcast, was, “Is this a joke or something?” Shaking her head, she added, “That’s just ridiculous.”

Battling her emotions the rest of the way, Thompson somehow bounced back to play the final six holes in two under par. “I am proud just the way I played coming in,” said Thompson, who told the rules official, Sue Witters, that she had not intentionally placed her ball in the wrong spot on the hole in question.

It did not matter. In the rules of golf, action trumps intent. If not for a rules change last year, Thompson would have been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. “For her to come back, I got goose bumps talking about it,” said Suzann Pettersen, who tied for third. “It shows what character she has.”

It was the second time in as many years that a player holding the lead on the final day of a major was assessed a penalty after a television viewer noticed a rules infraction involving the leader.

by Karen Crouse, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
[ed. This is crazy. What other sport allows some random tv viewer to call in and report a missed penalty - from a day earlier!?]