I’ll Be All Right

June 11, 2017 -

It was perhaps the single worst penalty ever imposed in the history of golf.

Two months ago while leading the LPGA’s first Major Championship of the season in Sunday’s final round, Lexi Thompson was penalized four shots for something that she had inadvertently done 24 hours before.

On the 17th hole of Saturday’s third round Thompson had left her approach putt inches short of the hole. Thompson and her fellow competitors were being timed (playing slowly) so Thompson rushed to put her marker down to mark her ball. When she replaced her mark it was not in the exact position from where she first marked it (less than an inch away) as Thompson quickly brushed in her putt for par.

A viewer (and you have to question the absolute absence of a life for someone to do this) then e-mailed the LPGA and accompanying Rules officials to report the breach.

By the book; the LPGA determined that she had breached USGA Rules 20-7c and 16-1b. 20-7c is a two shot penalty for not remarking your ball in the exact position from which it rested and dear old 16-1b is for signing an incorrect scorecard.

A day later, they decided to let Thompson know as she was playing the 12th hole of Sunday’s final round holding a two-shot lead. The four stoke penalty now gave her a two stroke deficit as a stunned Thompson asked: “Oh my God, this is ridiculous. Is this a joke?”

Understandably distraught and visibly shaken, the young American superstar was able to nonetheless somehow gather herself and birdie the 13th hole. It was perhaps the best birdie ever recorded at a Major Championship.   

The 22-year old Thompson played the last 6 holes of regulation play with a courage, grace and resilience that few players would ever be able to summon. Ultimately she would fall to South Korea’s Soyeon Ryu in the first hole of a play-off.  

In the aftermath and subsequent fallout from the ANA debacle, the USGA (the Amateur game’s governing body and Rules administrators) has put forth rules changes for 2019 which would eliminate something like this from ever happening again by introducing a “reasonable judgement standard”. As that would translate, Thompson would not have been penalized because she had made a reasonable (if hurried) attempt to mark her ball and did nothing untoward.

Three weeks ago, Thompson won the Kingsmill Championship presented by JTBC to claim her 8th LPGA Tour title and move to #4 in the Rolex world rankings. It was a dominating performance that set the tournament scoring record of 20-under par for the week as she cruised to a 5 stroke win over Gee Chun and 9 shots ahead of 3rd place finisher Angela Stanford. When asked afterwards if this win can bring some closure to the events at the ANA Thompson said: “It definitely does. I’m so over it. It’s in the past. It’s unfortunate what happened, but it’s time to move on.”

Thompson is the highest ranked American player but the way that she has conducted herself and the resolve with which she has played put her on a different level altogether. 

This weekend in Cambridge, Ontario, Thompson was again the leader after the 3rd round of the Manulife LPGA Classic at 17-under and one ahead of fellow American, Lindy Duncan going into Sunday’s final round.    

Thompson had a two shot lead with two holes to play on Sunday before faltering with back-to-back bogies on the 17th and 18th to fall into a playoff with Ariya Jutanugarn and Chun. Jutanugarn made a birdie-3 on the first playoff hole to secure her 6th career LPGA title (all in the last 13 months) and become the newest #1 ranked player in the world.

For Thompson, it was another heartbreak, but it will not break her will. Thompson said it will take “a day or so’’ to get over the playoff loss but that it was “all right”.   

As fans we are attracted to winners. Whether they are likeable or villainous we are always drawn to greatness. It has a magnetic resonance that is as compelling as the Sirens of ancient Greece. Every now and again though one of these great winners supersedes merely being athletically valorous and they become a human being that we can admire. For Lexi that transformation has happened. 

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