Lexi Thompson Busted: Victim or Perpetrator?

By Wayne | Videos: As Seen On TV and Extras

I can’t for the life of me understand how anyone who watched the video of Lexi Thompson marking her ball and replacing it in the 3rd round of last week’s ladies’ major championship could think that she did not cheat. Arguing that the ruling never should have happened because viewers shouldn’t be allowed to call in rules infractions, or that there should be a time limit to calling an infraction (there is, and it’s until the last shot is holed and the trophy is awarded) is like the Trump administration claiming the focus should be on the leaks and not on the Russian interference in the election. People, please, watch the video! She picks the ball up and blatantly improves her lie! She doesn’t clean the ball, she doesn’t line it up differently, it never gets more than two inches off the ground and she never takes her eye off the small area around the ball. She searches for a place to put the ball that she likes better than the one it’s sitting in, and she moves it there. She deserved to be disqualified.

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(8) comments

Charles April 4, 2017

Wayne – as you can see I posted something on this earlier today after I actually watched the video. I totally agree with you. She 100% improved her lie and knew what she was doing. How could she not know? It’s so obvious. Like I posted earlier, it makes me think “what else has she done to break the rules that we don’t know about?”. It’s a game of honor and we’re supposed to call penalties on ourselves.

John April 5, 2017

Not 100% clear to me. She seems to re-marks it a second time but we don’t see where the ball finally ended up. Anyway, she seems to be ‘searching’ for a better lie and so it looks very bad.
I see Mickelson has now weighed in stating that it’s pretty common on the PGA Tour for some players to move it 2-3 inches in front of the marker. This astounded me. If it is correct, why are Phil and the others not reporting this or challenging it? They have a duty to safeguard the rest of the field playing in the event who are not playing ‘preferred lies’ on the greens.
Then he goes and states that her penalty should have been reversed and that no-one should lose an event because of moving the ball on the green!
I am afraid that modern morality and honesty are plumbing new depths. Bob Jones Jnr famously called a penalty on himself when NO-ONE else saw it. Don’t think we’ll ever see that again.

    Jack April 6, 2017

    John, regarding your reference to Bobby Jones (at a US Open I believe, where he ended up getting beat by a stroke)… In one of his books he describes his disgust, in the aftermath of that incident, at the many instances of well intentioned folks who lauded him for his sportsmanship in calling the penalty on himself: “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

    You are correct, we are light years away in morality from such a time.

Tom April 5, 2017

One interesting aspect of this controversy is that it highlights an aspect of the Rules of Golf that is not well understood.

It makes no difference whether Thompson intended to improve her lie or not. She clearly mismarked her ball and, as Wayne notes, should have been disqualified regardless of whether the mismarking was intentional or negligent.

The Rules of Golf were devised to avoid the necessity of evidentiary hearings on the golf course to determine intent. This approach can lead to some harsh results (the penalty on Dustin Johnson for grounding his club in what he didn’t realize was a bunker in the PGA Championship several years ago is a good example). But the policy makes a lot of sense.

BTW, Paul Goydos echoed Mickelson’s comment that mismarking occurs quite often on the PGA Tour.

Rusty April 5, 2017

I don’t think she marked and then re-marked. That is just the video clip starting to rewind. Otherwise, Wayne is spot on. She purposefully moved the ball to a better location. She either saw it settle down into a depression when it trickled and stopped or she noticed it sitting down when she stood over it. Remember, it initially looked like she was going to tap in without marking. That’s why she was off to the side when she marked. What she did is not uncommon at all levels of tournament play. Another reason to get rid of the big coins.

    Jack April 6, 2017

    Yes it certainly seems she was attempting some sort of improvement. It may have been that she noticed it sitting in a tiny depression as you say. Or it may be that she noticed a spike mark directly in her line to the hole – that would explain why she only needed to move it about a half inch to one side, why she initially placed the coin at about 45 degrees toward her feet (though some portion of the coin is tucked close to the center line of the ball as it originally laid). To me the case becomes clear as a de facto rules violation without even having to guess as to her actual knowledge of wrong-doing (what a lawyer would refer to in Latin as “mens rea”) when the video very clearly shows, as Wayne points out, that she didn’t lift the ball very far off the ground. Even though the camera doesn’t show us where her eyes were looking and doesn’t show us her upper torso movement, we can reasonably be certain that she remained fully bent over and fairly stationary while executing the lift and replace. The other thing is that I see that she actually does turn the ball very slightly – rotationally – about 90 degrees (i.e., a quarter-turn of the ball) in a clockwise manner (from our viewing perspective).

    I can tell she turned it about 90 degrees because the label or logo on the side of the ball that we can see (before she lifts it) is not quite horizontal to our view – the rightmost point of that label or logo is tilted upward from dead-level (about 30 degrees) and the leftmost point is tilted downward from dead-level (like a see-saw at rest on the ground). By the time she replaces the ball (by improperly moving it toward her own feet) and begins to pick up her coin, the label/logo has rotated quite a bit so that the rightmost point is tilted downward about 60 degrees below dead level. The see-saw has flipped.

    Also, at this point you can now see another label/logo pretty much on the nose of the ball (the portion of the ball nearest the hole). This label/logo is pretty much perpendicular to the label/logo on the side of the ball (which makes sense). Clearly this front-facing label/logo had been more on top of the ball when initially at rest, and she likely looked down and saw it as she was about to just putt-out without marking. Perhaps she doubted that it was perpendicular to her intended line to the hole, so she places her coin down in order to rotate the ball so that no label will be visible when she looks down to make her putting stroke – so that all she will see when she looks down will be the blank white top-surface of the ball. If I’m using a ball that I haven’t drawn my “T-line” (from EyeLine Golf) with a sharpie for putting alignment purposes, I will often mark the ball for this purpose – to rotate the ball to get rid of the label/logo that may be cockeyed to my intended line of putt.

    There is nothing wrong with rotating the ball like this after you have placed your mark and are in the act of replacing the ball, of course. She properly rotates the ball while it is suspended in the air an inch or two above the ground. But the point I am belaboring is that this is evidence that she is focusing on the ball with precision. When you are doing that (and not standing up straight after lifting) the coin would never have a chance to be out of her peripheral vision. What she is doing is in no way haphazard. Watch how she very precisely places the ball down and then lets go of it by widening her thumb and forefingers simultaneously, so that the ball won’t shudder or roll in any direction upon releasing it. If she is taking that much due care in placing the ball such that it will sit perfectly still upon releasing her thumb and forefingers (like opening a set of tongs), she can see precisely the spot that she is placing the ball relative to the coin, and she darn well knows that it’s not the same place from which she picked the ball up (relative to that coin), because she definitely placed the coin not direcly behind the ball, but at an angle – cocked toward her feet. When she places the ball down, she can see that she’s placing it directly in front of the coin (on a straight line to the center of the hole) rather than on the cocked angle from which she picked the ball up.

    So I don’t need to be a mind-reader to know that she committed an infraction and that she observed herself doing it with her own eyes. When you are rotating a ball to get rid of label that’s on top (distracting), and you are to the side of the ball, and not behind it, there is no way that you are looking at the hole, for example, rather than the ball when you are in the act of placing it on the green.

    Why does she do this? We’ll never know. I would speculate that this is something that she’s done before and never heard a peep from anyone that there’s anything wrong with it. That reminds me of Tiger at the Masters in 2013. Playing partners just don’t want to feel uncomfortable raising issues with the person in their own group due mostly to fear of a negative response – and then feeling like they won’t play their best afterward if emotions run high. That’s not helpful in protecting the field, but that’s why Phil Mickelson is not phased at all in his explanation that a lot guys on tour do what Lexi did, and Phil doesn’t call them on it. It’s wrong to be so non-chalant about it when there is so much money at stake.

Ryan April 5, 2017

Did she break the rules? Yes.

Did she cheat? Maybe, but she also could have been distracted by the countless mental/environmental factors in the moment. It stood out to me that her attention/eyes could have been on the line of the adjacent mark while placing her ball. Not to mention how irrational her intent would have to be given her proximity to the hole. The whole argument seems moot.

If we believe viewers at home should be allowed to call in rules violations, it means we’re okay that players with the most airtime should be under a different criterion in the application of the rules. I think that’s BS. It sucks when refs don’t notice players step OB or beat a tag, but we accept the outcome because the application of the rules is consistent. We don’t demand 10 umpires behind the plate, and we don’t need 10 million referees at home.

Mike April 7, 2017

I agree that she should’ve been penalized and I think it’s irrelevant whether it was someone calling in, or whether it was an official on the course. Although I’ve never loved the signing an incorrect scorecard penalty in these cases where a penalty was called retroactively.

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