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Lexi Thompson and the goofy golf rules that cost her a title

 
RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - APRIL 2:  Lexi Thompson cries in a towel as she walks to the 18th green after her second shot during the final round of the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club on April 2, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) 692438007
RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - APRIL 2: Lexi Thompson cries in a towel as she walks to the 18th green after her second shot during the final round of the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club on April 2, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) 692438007
Published April 4, 2017

Golf officially became stupid on Sunday afternoon.

A gentleman's game? Honorable? A noble sport where ethics are as important as hitting a 2-iron?

Nope. Just stupid.

Name any other sport where someone watching at home can be referee. Name another sport where a player is penalized for something that happened a day earlier that they didn't know was wrong. Name any sport where the score — and outcome — is changed at the last minute.

That all happened Sunday.

Now golf has the chance to get it right, to change its archaic and inflexible rules and replace them with common sense. If Sunday doesn't push golf in that direction, nothing ever will. And if golf refuses to change, to heck with it.

LPGA golfer Lexi Thompson had a two-shot lead headed to the 13th hole of Sunday's final round in the first major of the season. She was then approached by a rules official who said that a viewer watching at home had noticed something on television from the day before. Thompson had a 1-foot putt and, after marking her ball, put the ball back in a slightly different spot.

That's a two-stroke penalty. And because she didn't score it as such, she signed a wrong scorecard at the end of the round. That's another two-stroke penalty.

So because some goober at home wore out the freeze frame on the DVR, then ratted her out to the LPGA, Thompson was assessed a four-stroke penalty. She went from leading by two strokes to trailing by two.

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Visibly shaken and with tears in her eyes, the 22-year-old Thompson managed to keep playing well. She should have won in a rout. Instead, she finished runnerup after losing on the first hole of sudden death to So Yeon Ryu.

Afterward, Thompson took the high road, but many golfers were outraged.

Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Seminole's Brittany Lincicome, among others, all tweeted out the absurdity of a home viewer impacting the outcome of a tournament.

Even Ryu said her victory didn't feel right.

Stuffy golf advocates will stick by their mantra that golf rules are golf rules. If you break them, then you suffer the consequences. You can feel bad for Thompson, they say, but she, not golf, is to blame. They also say this is what separates golf from all other sports.

That part is true. This is what makes golf and its rules and its persnickety supporters completely out of whack from the other sports that have a much better sense of right and wrong.

The whole point of having rules in sports is to ensure fair play. Rules in sports are created to make sure no one cheats or is cheated. Rules are created to see that the team or person that deserves to win does.

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That did not happen Sunday.

Let's start with someone watching at home being able to officiate an event. That's outrageous.

Imagine if someone called in after Clemson's victory over Alabama in the college football national title game and said a Clemson player lined up an inch offsides. And college football agreed and, the next day, declared Alabama the winner. That would never happen.

From now on, no more viewers playing referee. If the players and the officials at the event don't catch a violation then it's not a violation.

Next, what Thompson did should not have been a four-stroke penalty. If you want to penalize her two strokes for not marking her ball properly, fair enough. But to assess an extra two shots because she signed an incorrect scorecard that she didn't know was incorrect is overkill. Thompson was not trying to cheat and to punish her like she kicked her ball out from behind a tree is preposterous.

But the biggest injustice of all was penalizing Thompson in the middle of her final round for something that had happened nearly 24 hours earlier. She — and all of her competition — played most of Sunday with the impression that she was doing four strokes better than she actually was. You don't think Thompson would have played differently had she known that? You don't think those chasing her would have played differently?

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Therefore, you could argue there was nothing legitimate about the final result and there's nothing worse that can be said about a sport than having a result that is not legitimate.

Golf needs to change the rules immediately.

No more viewers calling in. Once the next round starts, anything that happened in the previous rounds cannot be changed.

It's too late to fix what happened to Thompson, but it's never too late to fix stupid.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones