When common sense must prevail
It’s one thing to lose a major championship at the death with a poor or ill-considered shot, as we’ve seen from Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie over the years, but to see a major title taken away through questionable penalty shots is even more painful.
Nearly 50 years after Roberto DeVicenzo was possibly denied a Masters green jacket, golf has suffered another unfortunate rules incident that has resonated with the wider general public and caused many non-golfers to question the game’s values.
The Rules of Golf can be harsh, as Lexi Thompson crushingly understood with the four penalty shots that ultimately cost the 22-year-old a second women’s major, the ANA Inspiration. That Lexi nearly still won, despite the unexpected sanction thrust upon her during the final round, made the situation even more infuriating for those who believe in fair play.
Thompson is a national sweetheart in the United States – at age 12 she became the US Women’s Open’s youngest qualifier, and at 16 she won on the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour – so the emotional handwringing over her bizarre loss has gained more traction in America than elsewhere. There also wouldn’t have been the same outpouring of grief from fans or PGA Tour players if this had happened to one of the LPGA Tour’s Korean players.
Still, you have to feel for Thompson, and for another female golfer from the 1950s, Jackie Pung, because each was the actual winner of a major, recording the lowest score in terms of shots played, without being given the trophy. They were, as golf writer Dan Jenkins titled one of his books, “The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate.”
There are times when the Rules of Golf need to be strictly applied and emotional responses ignored – as with Ian Woosnam’s two-shot penalty for unwittingly having 15 clubs in his bag to begin the final round of the 2001 Open at Lytham, or Dustin Johnson’s two-shot penalty on the final hole at the 2010 PGA for grounding his club in one of the loosely termed “bunkers” at Whistling Straits, taking him out of a playoff.
But there are occasions when common sense surely has to prevail, as it did with Bobby Locke in the 1957 Open at St Andrews, when he failed to replace his ball exactly where it had come to rest on the home green in the final round.The error was only noticed later, after Locke had received the claret jug, and the championship committee decreed no advantage had been gained. Instead of winning by three, Locke could have been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
Common sense should have dictated that De Vicenzo be given the chance of contesting a playoff at Augusta in 1968, as everyone had seen him birdie the 17th to tie Bob Goalby. But playing partner Tommy Aaron gave him a par 4 on 17, which the Argentinian signed for. DeVicenzo was luckier than Jackie Pung, because he had signed for a higher score, and at least finished second. She “won” the 1957 US Women’s Open, but was disqualified for having a lower score recorded on one hole in the final round, despite having the correct total.
In Thompson’s case, she should have received a two-shot penalty when video evidence revealed her failure to replace her ball in the exact spot in the third round, but not an additional two penalty shots for having signed an incorrect scorecard after the round.Yes, the Rules of Golf say they must be applied, but in Thompson’s defence she was unaware of the transgression. Subsequent “trial by video”, unique to televised events, should not incur these additional signing penalties, because they are inconsistent in terms of when they are spotted. Had the infraction been noticed after the tournament, no penalties would have been applied.
Hopefully, the proposed changes to the Rules of Golf – detailed in our feature starting on page 38 – will lessen the chances of this happening again.