LPGA star Lexi Thompson can take solace in the fact that her misfortune almost certainly led to a big change in the rules of golf. At the 2017 ANA Inspiration, the first LPGA major of the season, Thompson replaced her golf ball after marking it on the green. No one noticed an issue, but a TV viewer called LPGA officials and claimed the ball wasn’t put back in exactly the same spot.
After analyzing the video, the LPGA determined the ball was, indeed, replaced improperly — grounds for a two-shot penalty. But, because Thompson had finished her round and signed her scorecard without penalty strokes, she was assessed an additional two shots. Lexi was lucky. Up until 2011, she would’ve been disqualified entirely.
Thompson handled her penalty with grace, but the setback kept her from winning. Instead, she found herself in a playoff with Korean golfer So Yeon Ryu, who sank a birdie putt on the first extra hole to win.
USGA changes rule to eliminate TV viewer feedback
Thompson’s trial sparked a chorus of complaints from players and fans who believed TV viewers should not influence the outcome of a round or tournament after the fact. While golfers are renowned for fair play and adhering to rules, when neither the player, their opponents or observers can see what is only apparent from reviewing video coverage, it seems unfair. In addition, this type of viewer complaint only impacts players performing well and who appear on the broadcast, while others are not under this spotlight.
In response to the uproar, the U.S. Golf Association announced that, effective January 1, 2018, PGA and LPGA officials would no longer respond to TV viewers’ complaints and players would not be penalized for rule violations they did not know about when they signed their scorecards.
5 other crazy rule violations
Other weird rule violations caught by TV cameras have influenced past golf tournaments and subsequently some of the most famous golfers’ careers.
1. Tom Watson: 1980 MONY Tournament of Champions, final round
TV microphones picked up comments from Tom Watson’s playing partner Lee Trevino that indicated Watson suggested he change his stance. During a round, you can’t give advice to a competitor under rule 8-1, and a viewer caught the mistake. Watson was assessed a two-shot penalty at the end of his round but won anyway.
2. Craig Stadler: 1987 Andy Williams Open, third round
Before Thompson, Craig Stadler’s odd rule violation was one of the most famous. “The Walrus” hit a shot underneath a pine tree. To keep his pants clean, he knelt on a towel as he improvised a shot to put the ball back on the fairway. Viewers called in saying he broke rule 13-3, which prohibits golfers from building up a stance. Instead of finishing runner-up, he was disqualified. (Nearly a decade later, Torrey Pines greenskeepers allowed Stadler to cut the tree down.)
3. Juli Inkster: 2010 Safeway Classic, third round
At the time of this incident, the veteran player had been on the LPGA Tour for more than 20 years. During a long wait on the 10th tee, Juli Inkster passed the time by swinging a weighted training aid, which happened to be shown on TV. A viewer called in, noting this was against a rule that bans the use of any type of instructional trainer during a round. Inkster was disqualified after rules officials investigated; she didn’t know she broke a rule until she finished at the 18th.
4. Dustin Johnson: 2010 PGA Championship, final round
In 2010, Dustin Johnson hadn’t won a major yet, but it looked like this was about to change. Taking a one-shot lead in the final hole at Whistling Straits, he hit the ball into a patch of sand on the fairway’s side. Then, Johnson hit his next shot from the sandy patch but was told it was actually a bunker and he should not have ground his club. (Apparently, the local rule that all sandy spots were considered hazards was emphasized in the locker room throughout the week.)
Johnson complained that the area was dirt, not sand. But he was assessed a two-shot penalty, carded a triple and missed playing in the playoff won by Martin Kaymer. This one wasn’t reported by a TV viewer, but cameras caught every moment of the issue and helped officials make the final determination. Johnson had another issue at the 2016 U.S. Open where a viewer said they saw his ball move; he was assessed a one-shot penalty after officials analyzed the video. He went on to win regardless.
5. Tiger Woods: 2013 Masters, second round
Tiger Woods found himself in a tough situation after taking a drop on the 15th hole of Augusta. An off-duty rules official watching on TV reported the drop as incorrect, but on-site officials determined it was fine and declined to assess a penalty. However, in a post-round interview with ESPN, Woods discussed his drop and unknowingly made it clear he’d done it incorrectly.
This caused rules officials to review once again, reverse their earlier decision, and give the then-four-time Masters champ a two-shot penalty. Woods was not disqualified at the discretion of the rules committee, but many golf fans felt he should’ve withdrawn. He tied for fourth place.