EDITORIAL: On Lexi Thompson, retroactive officiating, and the impact of sports

The LPGA and tour superstar Lexi Thompson got some unfortunate press recently. The details are in the video below.

Thompson clearly does not replace the golf ball on the green in the same location that she originally had marked it. This is a 2-stroke penalty. Upon finishing the round, Lexi signed her scorecard without the requisite penalty for this infraction, thus incurring another 2-stroke penalty.

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However, that’s not exactly what happened.

April 2, 2017; Rancho Mirage, CA, USA; Lexi Thompson reacts following her loss in a playoff against So Yeon Rryu during the final round of the ANA Inspiration golf tournament at Mission Hills CC - Dinah Shore Tournament Cou. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The rule infractions noted above all happened on Saturday – Day Three of the major tournament. Thompson was approached on the 13th hole of Round Four on Sunday to be informed of her violations and her 4-stroke penalty. This completely wiped out her 3-shot lead. The young American phenom was able to recover, make three straight birdies and force a playoff, but lost on the first sudden-death hole.

The real sticky point about this situation is that the rules infraction was noticed by a television viewer at home and then retroactively enforced by the LPGA rules committee. The entire situation drew some intense controversy and commentary on social media, including a response from the greatest golfer of this generation.

Golf is a bit of an anomaly. In this great game, players referee themselves. Calling a penalty on yourself is part of the historic tradition of a game that teaches self-reliance, honesty, and sportsmanship.

However, in this case, Lexi Thompson had made the error by mistake. Not realizing her transgression, she did not call a penalty on herself. No other players noticed it at the time it happened. Only a call in from a TV viewer after the fact brought the issue to light. The LPGA then made the decision to retroactively enforce the penalty severely hampering the aspirations of Lexi Thompson’s dreams of collecting a second major championship trophy.

This got me thinking: What is up with this retroactive officiating? Does this happen in other sports?

The answer is: no.

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As a Detroit sports fan, I can remember several times where I (and, I expect, many others) would’ve called in to report missed calls that impacted a Detroit team.

Let’s take a little rewind to October of 2015 – Detroit Lions vs. Seattle Seahawks. You remember the game. When Calvin Johnson fumbled a ball into the end zone at the end of the game only to have the ball batted out of the end zone by a Seattle defender illegally to end the game. I’m pretty sure that most of metro Detroit would’ve reached for the phone in that instance.

How about June 2, 2010 when umpire Jim Joyce missed the final out of the contest denying Armando Galarraga and the Detroit Tigers a perfect game? Should we have the opportunity to call in and notice the missed call in this instance? We’re talking about a perfect game here. The very next day, Joyce was apologetic, but, nothing could change the fact that the game was already decided. There was no going back.

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I know, as Detroit fans, we often adopt the moniker of “Detroit vs. Everybody” and it feels as if all the calls go against our teams. However, here’s one that didn’t. What about Thanksgiving Day in 1998, a botched coin toss went the Lions way.

To my knowledge, golf is the only sport where TV viewers are allowed to retroactively call attention to infractions and change the outcomes of events. We have instant replay in other sports, but, that’s not the same thing. It’s not fair to Lexi Thompson, in this instance, and it’s not fair to the fans.

In golf, the players are the officials. If they don’t call foul, then there is no foul. That holds true in other sports. Jim Joyce misses the call, then there’s no perfect game. A ref makes a mistake on the coin toss? Too bad. It is what it is.

Rules are rules. The integrity of the game is at stake. It’s time for the LPGA to apologize and stop this nonsensical practice moving forward.

Written by Leonard Elmore

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