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One of the dumbest practices in all of professional sports is that those who watch golf on TV have the ability to call in to the tournament that’s being played and inform officials that a golfer has just broken a rule and should be penalized.
But what happened Sunday was unprecedented when Lexi Thompson lost her lead and probably the championship at the ANA Inspiration, one of the LPGA’s major events, because a TV viewer emailed the tournament to inform it that Thompson had broken a rule. As a result, the tournament levied Thompson with a four-stroke penalty on Sunday for a rule that was broken the day before.
As the Comeback writes:
Thompson was assessed a four-shot penalty on Sunday for replacing her ball in an improper spot at the 17th hole, before she made a one-foot putt. She was given a two-stroke penalty for moving the ball and a two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard.
However, the infraction took place in the third round on Saturday, and Thompson wasn’t even told about the four-stroke penalty until after she completed the 12th hole during Sunday’s final round. A two-shot lead (at 16-under) after the 12th hole immediately turned into a two-shot deficit for Thompson.
Here’s how minor the rule violation was that cost Thompson her major tournament victory.
Golfers hate the rules that allow this, because it’s so damn unfair. For one, this wouldn’t have happened if Thompson wasn’t among the tournament’s contenders and, therefore, was on TV. If Thompson were in 40th place at the time, the penalty likely wouldn’t have been levied because her round wouldn’t have been televised.
Also, there are plenty of rules officials on the golf course. If they can’t spot a minor infraction like this, it’s beyond silly that the LPGA Tour (and, for that matter, the PGA Tour) would allow viewers—who very well could have personal or financial biases driving their decision—to help police the game.
Plus, she was penalized two strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard on Saturday, even though the tournament itself had no idea she had committed a penalty and nobody knew her scorecard was wrong.
Thompson ended up rallying back to force a sudden-death playoff, but ultimately, she finished in second place.
She was emotional yet classy in her post-round interviews, but her fellow professional golfers were pissed.
Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes. Let's go @Lexi, win this thing anyway.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 3, 2017
Who the F#*k is sitting at home zooming in on that stuff??— Shane Lowry (@ShaneLowryGolf) April 3, 2017
So Yeon Ryu won the tournament, pocketing a $405,000 payday. As the second-place finisher, Thompson took home about $250,000. That means a viewer email about a tiny rule infraction that nobody else saw probably cost Thompson a major title and $155,000.
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.