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Posted April 2, 2017 in "Watts" In The Bag by Tom Brassell
By Steve Eubanks – Global Golf Post
RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA | Let’s get it out the way: So Yeon Ryu, the nicest person in golf, male or female, the best ballstriker in the women’s game, and the new No. 2-ranked player in the world, snapped a nearly three-year winless streak by capturing her second major championship at the ANA Inspiration. She did it with a final-round 68 on Sunday at Mission Hills Country Club for a 14-under-par total. She then birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to beat Lexi Thompson.
Under normal circumstances, that would have been the feel-good story of the game, especially since Ryu had her mom in from South Korea and her sister down from Los Angeles to watch her for the first time this year.
The only thing that could have screwed up this otherwise great week was some arcane ruling, the kind of thing that haunted the USGA during both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens last year and the sort of thing that repels young people from entering and enjoying the game.
Lo and behold …
Late Sunday afternoon in the California desert, the LPGA opened a hornet’s nest of controversy by doing what they had to do: penalizing tournament leader Thompson four strokes for an infraction that had occurred the day before.
The situation unfolded this way: On Saturday afternoon, Thompson marked a 2-foot putt on the 17th green, apparently to clean something off her ball since she didn’t lift it more than a foot or so off the ground. When she replaced it, the ball was in a different spot, no more than three-quarters of an inch different, but different. That is a violation of Rule 20-7c, “Playing from a Wrong Place.”
Nobody noticed on Saturday night or Sunday morning. It wasn’t until Thompson and Suzann Pettersen made their way up the ninth fairway in the final round that someone in the LPGA.com offices forwarded a fan e-mail to Sue Witters, vice president of tour rules and competition.
“I headed over to the TV compound and looked at it with another official who was in there,” Witters said. “And I brought another (third) official in and had Heather (Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA chief communication and tour operations officer) come in and take a look. We were just sick about it.”
Witters approached Thompson after the final group finished the 12th hole and informed her of a two-shot penalty for the violation of 20-7c, and another two shots for what is arguably the most asinine rule in the professional game: signing an incorrect scorecard (Rule 6-6d). Everybody with a television knows what pros shoot. Wrong-card penalties are fine for local member-guests. For major tours, they’ve been outdated since Roberto de Vicenzo.
Assessed four shots, Thompson cried in public for the first time anyone could remember. Then she angrily rolled in a 25-footer for birdie at 13 and made another birdie at 15 to retake the lead. A bogey from the right rough at the difficult par-4 16th dropped her into a tie with Pettersen and Ryu, who was two groups ahead playing with Inbee Park. Ryu, who has gotten 20 yards longer since she started working with instructor Cameron McCormick two years ago, birdied the par-5 18th to take the lead. Then Thompson reached the 18th in two and had a 15-footer for eagle to win outright.
Chants of “Lexi! Lexi!” echoed through the valley as Thompson walked across the bridge and past the statue of Dinah Shore. She hit a great putt that hung on the edge, a millimeter from the greatest comeback in the game’s long history.
Instead, it is one of golf’s great injustices.
The ruling was correct. And wrong.
If proposed changes to the Rules of Golf go into effect as written in 2019, what Thompson did will not be a violation. The new standard will be “reasonable judgment.” If the player makes a good-faith effort to get a ball back in the right spot, there will be no penalty, even if video evidence shows that the player blew it.
The question for all involved is simple. If a player’s judgment will be deemed reasonable in 2019, why is it unreasonable now?
Others are questioning why golf’s ruling bodies continue to take calls and e-mails from viewers who seem to have nothing better to do than scrutinize every frame of video. Moments after Thompson was assessed the penalty, Tiger Woods tweeted: “Viewers at home should not be officials in stripes. Let’s go Lexi. Win this thing anyway.”
Thompson, who had gotten to 17 under through 11 holes on Sunday, threatening Dottie Pepper’s all-time tournament scoring record of 19 under, could have won in regulation and could have extended the playoff if she’d made a 10-footer for birdie on the first extra hole. Instead, she embraced Ryu and the two wept together on the green.
“I learned a lot about myself and how much fight I do have in me,” Thompson said afterward. “Every day is a learning process. I wasn’t expecting what happened today but it happens. I’ll learn from it and hopefully do better.”
It was a sad way to end an otherwise terrific week. The Dinah Shore Tournament Course was in the best shape anyone has seen in years. The galleries were large and enthusiastic. An early-week weather hiccup (winds that gusted up to 60 mph) didn’t booger up the course or leave anybody on the bad side of a draw. And you had a leaderboard that looked like an invitation list to the “Who’s Who of Women’s Golf.”
The shame of it is that Ryu, one of the best stories in the game, will be the second person talked about in this event.
The 26-year-old came to America to play the LPGA six years ago speaking only the English she had learned in grade school in Seoul. While playing professionally, she got her degree from Yonsei University, which is the Harvard of Korea. In between, she has won four times, including the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open, which she also captured in a playoff.
She hit a slump late in 2014, losing distance and struggling on the greens. The move to McCormick was more than a coaching change. Ryu moved from Los Angeles to Dallas so the two could spend more time working together.
“It’s so great being out there and seeing guys like Jordan (Spieth) working,” she told The Post. “I see Jordan working on chip shots and I say, ‘So Yeon, if Jordan is working this hard, you have to stay out here and chip at least as long as he does.’ ”
Ryu worked with McCormick to round her backswing and get in a much more powerful position at impact, which has added both distance and consistency. The work paid off in the final round when she reached the 18th in two both in regulation and in the playoff,
the second time with a 5-wood from 218 yards. That shot rolled three paces off the right edge of the green, perilously close to the water. Then the chipping work came through. She almost holed her eagle, and made the 5-footer for the victory.
That’s when Ryu, who is a devout Christian and loves her neighbor as herself, broke down in tears, partly for what she’d accomplished and in part in sympathy for Thompson.
“This was my first time crying on the green,” she said. “Certainly, my first time in the U.S. and maybe only the second time in my life.”
Those tears came at the right time for the right reasons. Despite the controversy, the ANA ended up with two champions, one who left with the trophy and one who carried away the admiration of every fan in the game.
Republished with permission by Global Golf Post.