Golf chiefs are facing renewed scrutiny of the game’s rules on the eve of the Masters following the bizarre chain of events that deprived American Lexi Thompson of her second Major title.
Thompson, 22, was reduced to tears at the ANA Inspiration on Sunday when she was informed, while leading by two shots with six holes to play, that she had been penalised four strokes.
The sanction related to an incident almost 24 hours earlier, in which she incorrectly replaced a marked ball, that was missed by course officials but investigated following an email from a television viewer.
Read more: Henley secures 11th-hour Masters invitation
World No4 Thompson composed herself enough to tie with Ryu So-Yeon and force a play-off, only to lose to the South Korean at the first extra hole at Mission Hills in California.
Tiger Woods echoed widespread disbelief that an armchair pundit had been able to wield such influence over the outcome of one of the most prestigious and lucrative events on the women’s LPGA tour.
“Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes,” the former men’s No1 wrote on social media.
Justin Thomas, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, added: “Whatever number this is that people can call in [sic], it needs to go away.”
Our statement regarding Lexi Thompson penalty. pic.twitter.com/bQrlIFrebQ— LPGA (@LPGA) April 3, 2017
Thompson’s initial reaction to being told of her four-stroke penalty – two shots for the offence and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard – was to respond: “Is this a joke?”
She added after the tournament: “I did not intentionally do that, so to the officials or whoever called in, that was not my purpose. I didn’t even realise I did that.”
Ryu admitted to mixed emotions at winning the tournament, saying: “I cannot believe the situation. It hurts me as well, it is a weird feeling but at the same time I am proud of myself.”
LPGA rules official Sue Witters said she felt the tour had little choice.
“I can’t go to bed knowing that I let a rule slide,” she added. “It’s a hard thing to do, and it made me sick to be honest.”