Lexi Thompson was robbed. She was brutally assaulted by the media, and the officials of the LPGA. In pursuit of her second major LPGA championship, she was assessed a 4-stroke penalty, because, according to a TV viewer, she mismarked her ball by one inch.
Since when did we decide to let the fans affect the outcome of the game? In my view, it is a crime to allow fans to become an active participant in a professional contest. They paid for a ticket to watch the contest, not to judge it.
Did it start when a viewer called in to tattle on Craig Stadler when he kneeled on a towel to hit a shot off wet grass at Torrey Pines? Or when a viewer notified officials that Dustin Johnson grounded his club inside the nearly invisible boundary of a sand hazard, costing him a shot at his first major championship, the U.S. Open?
Like Thompson’s ruling, Stadler and Johnson were robbed. Both players violated rules, but stuff like that that happens almost every day when runners miss the bag when rounding second base. Or when the shortstop whiffs the bag in a ‘phantom’ double play. Where were the officials following their groups? The ones charged with the job of enforcing golf rules?
Is there any other sport that is broadcast live that allows viewers to affect the outcome of the game? Imagine if on-course some fan starts screaming, “He grounded his club!!” when in fact he didn’t. How would that affect the player or the outcome?
We can’t let that kind of fan chaos happen!
The point is, golf, by nature and by design, is a game that requires self-enforcement of the rules. In tournament conditions, officials are assigned a presence on the course and are available for the players to consult, when or if they believe they, or a fellow player, may have violated one of golf’s thousands of rules.
Course officials may sometimes request help from other organization officials in an attempt to get rulings correct. But the idea that some outside force, some unseen and distant viewer should affect the outcome of any contest is ridiculous, and dangerous. The expansion of the governing power to include uninformed, or at least uninvolved viewing parties, is ruining the experience for all of us. It is their product, and if they think it needs more scrutiny, fine, they can do that. But giving that kind of governing power to TV viewers is insane.
Obviously, fans have their voices heard at most sporting games. They boo and clap and make it known how they feel about various rulings. But what would happen if they actually changed the minds of mitigating officials, just because they felt bad about fan anger? What would that say about the integrity of the game?
“The ruling on the field has been reversed, because we have noted how angry the fans are. So the touchdown counts even though the receiver didn’t get both feet down!”
Golf is no different. The four-stroke penalty Lexi Thompson suffered on Sunday, which ultimately cost her a major title, is just another example of how much influence TV cameras are having on professional sports. But the real culprit is golf’s governing bodies for letting this type of interference happen in the first place.
They will claim their sensitivity to viewer insight is actually protecting the integrity of the game, but I believe just the opposite is true. For generations, the game was played on the course. Suddenly, the game is now a virtual video game. The officials on the course have been relegated to the sidelines. Now every shot is under scrutiny by viewers who have help from zoom lenses, from instant replay, and a thirst for celebrity.
Bringing observers into the process of the sport will destroy the nature and sanctity of the game. And what is most distressing is that the governing bodies, such as the LPGA, or the PGA and the networks and their advertisers, are collaborators in this crime.
Golf’s purity is under attack. When you and I play, we trust each other to play fairly, to keep our own scores and to assess penalties on ourselves, or to suggest that a partner recognize that a lost ball requires he go back to the tee to properly complete the hole. Most of us will just drop a ball somewhere nearby, and play on. Clearly not proper, but we aren’t professionals playing for huge amounts of cash and for historic legacies.
Real golf fans want professional golf to make proper use of the massive number of support personnel that patrol the course, along with companion players, to get the call right. All of the rulings and decisions regarding player conformity to the rules must be determined on the course, not via media interference. The tools are there, and sometimes violations will be missed, or even mis-enforced.