Commentary

Employ replay judges, set a time limit and ignore TV complaints

To be clear, Lexi Thompson was a loser on Monday and going forward, when she should have been nothing short of a clear winner.

The who-what-where-how of all this: She marked her ball on the 17th green during the third round of the ANA Inspiration, placed it down in a slightly different spot - and by "slightly", we mean "barely perceptible to the point in which it couldn't possibly make a difference to the competition" - putted out, and went about her round, her day, her life.

Subsequently - and by "subsequently" we don't mean on Saturday after her round, or Saturday evening, or Sunday morning, or Sunday afternoon before she teed off, but between the 12th and 13th holes of the final round - she was informed she had been penalised.

Imagine the satisfaction for officials, for the keepers of the game: We'll take two shots for the misplaced ball, thank you. And while we're at it, we'll take two more because you signed an incorrect scorecard that you had no idea was incorrect.

A distraught Lexi Thompson after her play-off loss to Ryu So Yeon in the ANA Inspiration. She was penalised two shots for misplacement and two more for signing a wrong scorecard.
A distraught Lexi Thompson after her play-off loss to Ryu So Yeon in the ANA Inspiration. She was penalised two shots for misplacement and two more for signing a wrong scorecard. PHOTO: REUTERS

We'll force you to grind just to push the LPGA's first Major championship of the season into a play-off. And when you lose that, we'll console ourselves by - by what, exactly? Convincing ourselves that, in enforcing the legalese of rules 20-7c, 16-1b and 6-6d, we've defended the honour of golf? Please.

No sport is as self-important as golf. None treats its rule book like so much scripture. And yet, none allows Everyman to play Judge Judy.

The only reason Thompson remains a one-time Major winner is because a TV viewer noticed what the sport of golf labels a sin but the public would take as something short of an honest mistake.

Does the person who e-mailed the LPGA wake up satisfied that his or her version of community policing has nabbed another thug?

No sport is as self-important as golf. None treats its rule book like so much scripture. And yet, none allows Everyman to play Judge Judy.

As golf enters the greater public consciousness for the first time all year - it's Masters week, after all - the streets are safe. Breathe easy. Lexi has been caught, justice served.

In what other sport do people get to watch from the comfort of their homes, with the advantage of HD television and self-controlled frame-by-frame replay, and get to participate in the adjudication of the action? The answer is no other sport. Zero.

What happened to Thompson - or, for that matter, to Tiger Woods at the 2013 Masters, or Dustin Johnson at the 2016 US Open, or a host of other players over the past decade - amounts to the National Football League (NFL) starting to crowd-source replay reviews.

Did Dez Bryant make that catch in Green Bay? Why, we're not sure. Let's ask you guys at home. Yes, that's right. You. What do you think? Retweet for catch. Fave for incompletion. That sounds ridiculous, because it is ridiculous.

But golf has put itself in this position by wilfully and gleefully developing a small cadre of rules sticklers. Let's also keep in mind who these de facto officials penalise: The players who are on television. What are the odds that a competitor on the LPGA or PGA Tours, with a tee time well out of the television spotlight, accidentally placed his or her ball in a slightly incorrect spot this past weekend - and no one noticed?

So the first simple solution is to eliminate the on-your-couch factor. Just as the NFL has replay officials on-site and the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have replay officials in centralised offices, golf needs to simply establish replay officials for each event. This would inconvenience no one, and would eliminate the unfairly empowered masses. Furthermore, contain any assessments of potential rules violations to that day, at the very least. Better yet, put a time limit on when a player's round can be evaluated. What's wrong with saying that no issue can be broached more than an hour after the player is done? If something's missed over the course of the round and still hasn't been brought up an hour later, there's a good chance it didn't matter in the least anyway.

Part of golf's code, the reason why its protectors view it as morally superior to other sports, is the honour it teaches in self-policing.

Long before any of these players performed on television, they were entrusted with counting their strokes honestly, with not moving their ball when no one was looking, with governing themselves in all sorts of competition. It is supposed to teach honour and integrity. But where is the honour in not listening to Thompson, who says she had no intention of gaining any sort of advantage - and, in fact, gained no such advantage. Why not believe her?

Instead, we have golf headed into its biggest week of the year, prime for ridicule from casual observers who see it as elitist and inaccessible. And for those who know the sport inside and out, we see a would-be champion instead in tears, because the sport values the observations of a couch jockey more than those who play it at the highest level.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Employ replay judges, set a time limit and ignore TV complaints'. Print Edition | Subscribe