Golf is making a mockery of itself after the farce today over the Lexi Thompson affair.
A TV viewer identified that Thompson replaced her ball on the green, after it had been marked, in a different place to where it lay originally.
This was in round 3. The penalty – two shots for "playing from the wrong place" and two shots for signing an incorrect scorecard – was assessed in round 4, a day later.
That "wrong place" was just centimetres away and made no difference to the short putt she had to make to complete the hole during her third round.
The tragedy is Lexi Thompson didn't win an important golf tournament she should have.
Now technically, the pedantic TV viewer is correct but that still makes the game a laughing stock.
In no other sport can TV viewers call up to point out rules infractions.
(Mind you, it would have been good if we could back in that 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter final, but that’s another story …..)
You might not know it, but golf tournaments do have rules officials. They’re called referees and in a major championship such as the ANA Inspiration a referee would have been walking with Lexi Thompson’s group for the entire round, or should have been.
We social players do not have referees of course. We should have a basic knowledge of the rules and can make decisions ourselves. That’s one of the great things about the game. In general, it’s self adjudicating.
In that respect, the professional game is like that too. Players referee themselves unless there’s a problem.
In stroke play events, referees do not step in to prevent rules infractions on players. But the official is there for a decision should the player, or any of her fellow competitors, require it.
The referee's responsibility is to watch the play and call a player for an infraction they may have witnessed, advise them of it and penalise them .. before the card is signed.
In that respect, golf referees are no different to officials in other sports.
The difference is there’s a lot more players to officiate on in golf, not to say a lot more real estate and action to cover.
Hence the rule which allows TV viewers to report possible rules infractions which are then investigated.
But it’s an inherently unfair rule because it penalises only those players who are on TV – the leaders.
So golf needs to do two things – stop TV viewers being unofficial officials and get more tournament referees on site, covering more players and watching them more closely.
And make a rule that once a scorecard is submitted and accepted by the tournament, then the matter can’t be relitigated.
Golf is a great game to play and to watch, but sometimes it just makes a fool of itself.